CLEMSON, S.C. – No. 1 Clemson took down No. 12 Texas A&M 24-10 on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The game was more lopsided than the score indicated, as the Tigers defense dominated Kellen Mond and the Aggie offense all afternoon. Trevor Lawrence and Clemson did enough on offense to see themselves climb to 2-0 on the young season.
Here are the best and worst moments from Saturday’s one-sided SEC-ACC showdown:
The third time was the charm for Clemson on offense. After punting on their first two possessions of the game, they found their rhythm, marching down the field on a nine-play, 82-yard drive. On third and long, Lawrence looked like he was about to be sacked before peeling out of the pocket and finding sophomore receiver Justyn Ross in the left front corner of the end zone for Clemson’s first touchdown of the game.
With time winding down in the first half, Lawrence threw a ball up to junior wide receiver Tee Higgins, who went up in between two Aggie defenders and high-pointed a ball that was slightly behind him. The catch put the Tigers inside the 5-yard line and led to a 1-yard touchdown run from Lawrence. The score put Clemson up 17-3 heading into halftime.
Although the Tigers defense gave up half as many yards, the Aggie defense deserves some recognition for how they slowed down Clemson on the ground. They held the Tigers rushing attack to just 3.7 yards per carry, totaling 121 yards. The Aggies held Travis Etienne, arguably the best running back in the country, to 53 yards, while his longest run was just 10 yards. That came after Etienne ran for 205 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech last week.
Even more impressively, Lawrence, who can escape the pocket and make plays with his legs, ended the game with minus-11 rushing yards. A&M’s run defense was one bright spot in what was a rough afternoon for the maroon and white.
Senior cornerback Roney Elam was in the hip pocket of Ross when Lawrence targeted his trusty receiver down the right sideline. Elam whipped his head around and snagged the underthrown ball out of the air to put an end to another Clemson drive that had reached Aggie territory. He recorded his first career interception against Texas State in the season opener and now has two in as many games this season. Creating more turnovers had been a focus of defensive coordinator Mike Elko entering this season.
Running back Lyn-J Dixon capped off a seven-play, 83-yard drive with a nifty 4-yard touchdown run for the Tigers. The sophomore ran to the right before cutting left and darting into the end zone. Dixon’s score put Clemson up 24-3 with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter.
Even though it did not mean much, the Aggies did produce a nice drive to end the game. On their final possession, Mond led his team down the field on a 16-play, 91-yard drive that took almost six minutes. The drive was capped with a 2-yard touchdown reception from freshman tight end Jalen Wydermyer. That is the kind of offense that head coach Jimbo Fisher would like to see on a more consistent basis. The Aggies face Lamar at Kyle Field next weekend, which will provide a bounce-back opportunity.
Mond ended the game completing 24 of his 42 passes (57%) for 236 yards and one touchdown. That stat line is more generous than what appeared to happen on the field. The quarterback’s first half was subpar, to say the least, as he completed just 35% of his passes for 51 yards. That start set the tone for the afternoon.
The Aggies had a chance to score first after driving down inside the red zone, but an inaccurate pass to a wide-open Kendrick Rogers followed by a no-gain run from Jashaun Corbin led to just a field goal. That was a significant wasted opportunity.
Even with decent protection for most of the game (two sacks, four hurries), Mond was overthrowing receivers all day and made catches more difficult than they needed to be. His second-half stats improved but only because the Clemson defense had taken their foot off the gas. This game was one of the more disappointing starts of Mond’s collegiate career.
This goes to the Aggies. The maroon and white totaled just 53 yards on the ground, averaging a lowly 2 yards per carry. It did not help that starting running back Corbin went down early in the second half, but there was no production even when he was still in the game. Aggie left guard Jared Hocker, who guaranteed an upset earlier this week, and his fellow offensive lineman have a lot to think about after this one.
There were a lot of injury issues for the Aggies throughout the game, but none was as impactful as losing their starting running back. Corbin went down for the Aggies early in the second half after catching a pass out of the backfield. The sophomore was tackled by safety Tanner Muse and landed awkwardly. To make things worse, 295-pound defensive tackle Tyler Davis landed on top of Corbin at the end of the play. Losing the guy who was meant to replace last year’s SEC-leading rusher, Trayveon Williams, only made offensive productivity more difficult for A&M. The Aggies will hope that Corbin can return to the field in short order.
With less than one minute to play in the first half, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike put an unnecessary hit on Lawrence after the quarterback had thrown the ball away. The penalty gave the Tigers a free 15 yards late in the half, and the drive ultimately resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run from Lawrence.
With 9:18 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Aggies had marched down to the Tigers 11-yard line. Clemson sent senior K’Von Wallace on a safety blitz that pressured Mond into an ill-advised lob throw that would be intercepted by fellow safety Muse at the 1-yard line. The throw killed one of the few chances that Texas A&M had at finding the end zone.
After finding Kendrick Rogers for a 7-yard pass that resulted in a first down, Mond took off running to start the next series. After rushing for 8 yards, the quarterback fumbled on his way to the ground, giving possession right back to the Tigers. The turnover led to a field goal for Clemson, who had scored a touchdown on the previous drive, and put the score at 10-3 with 3:57 remaining in the first half.