Texas A&M fans were chanting Jimbo Fisher’s name as he left Kyle Field after Saturday night’s 28-26 loss to second-ranked Clemson. You can bet the former Florida State head coach also was on the mind of FSU fans as they trailed Samford 26-21 in the fourth quarter.
FSU did rally for a 36-26 victory, avoiding a second straight home loss, but there’s no doubt the Seminoles biggest loss was Fisher. FSU is struggling under Willie Taggart while Fisher has completely revamped the Aggies, who made a statement against Clemson.
“They competed their tails off, and we were very fortunate to win,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Clemson, gunning for a fourth straight trip to the College Football Playoffs, had to stop a two-point conversion in the final minute to fend off the pesky Aggies who trailed by two scores three times, but just wouldn’t go away.
“That was a physical football team that we played, and we didn’t back down,” Fisher said. “It hurts [not to win] because you see how close you were to playing against the No. 2 team in the country, and we’re right there playing with them.”
A&M made big plays in all three phases, especially on offense with 501 yards. It was the most yards allowed by Clemson in 26 games dating back to 2016 against Louisville, led by Heisman Trophy quarterback Lamar Jackson, when the Cardinals had 568 yards, though Clemson also won that game 42-36.
A&M’s offense clicked because of Fisher’s play-calling and sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond, who threw for 430 yards with three touchdowns. He also was A&M’s leading rusher with 33 yards on 10 carries, despite being sacked three times.
“I was impressed with their quarterback,” Swinney said. “I told our local media this week, ‘He’s going to be a tough out,’ and he was. He’s a heck of a player. I know Jimbo’s excited to have him to build the team around.”
Mond is one of many underclassmen who are getting better. A quartet of sophomore receivers — Kendrick Rogers (7 receptions, 120 yards, 2 TDs), Camron Buckley (4-93), Jhamon Ausbon (3-61) and Quartney Davis (2-39, TD) — combined for 16 catches for 313 yards and three scores.
Several of the catches were outstanding, including Rogers’ 24-yard touchdown that put A&M in position to force overtime. The best play, though, might have been Davis’ 14-yard touchdown. Mond, running to his left, was falling after being tripped by blitzing linebacker Isaiah Simmons. Mond seemingly threw the ball away, but Davis made a heck of a diving catch.
“Texas A&M is a heck of team,” Swinney said. “They’re talented. Jimbo has done a great job of coming in and giving them a good plan.”
Fisher didn’t put a timetable on A&M becoming a Top 10 program, but Saturday’s effort showed it’ll be sooner than later.
“There’s no doubt that team that we just played — especially if that quarterback stays healthy — they’re going to give some people fits,” Swinney said. “They’ll gain a ton of confidence from how they played and how they competed because we’ve got a heck of a football team.”
A&M is becoming a heck of a football team because of Fisher, who is showing why he’s one of four active coaches who have won a national championship, along with Swinney, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban.
Fisher’s intensity showed late in the game when the officials ruled Davis’ fumble went through the end zone for a touchback. Fisher gave the officials an earful, because with 2 minutes, 13 seconds left, that seemingly sealed a 28-20 Clemson victory. But Fisher and his players regrouped to get the ball back and score, coming up a two-point conversion short of overtime.
It was refreshing for Aggie fans, who in recent seasons have watched too many games and seasons fade away.
“We know what to do and are more knowledgeable of the game,” said A&M junior linebacker Tyrel Dodson, adding that it comes from “Coach Fisher’s toughness, effort, discipline, and pride.”
The players have responded to Fisher, and the fans showed their appreciation by saying, “Jimbo, Jimbo, Jimbo,” which seems destined to become an Aggie tradition.
Swinney improved to 5-4 against Fisher.
“What a dogfight,” Swinney said. “It’s a shame someone has to lose a game like that when you see two teams that play with that great will to win.”
The atmosphere was reminiscent of A&M’s 9-6 victory over Nebraska in 2010, when the crowd stormed the field afterward.
“Hats off to A&M, what an awesome environment, I mean just awesome,” Swinney said. “Their team played with incredible heart.”
The crowd of 104,794 was sixth-largest in school history, but it couldn’t keep A&M from losing sixth straight game to a ranked teams with four of them at home.
A&M couldn’t run the ball against Clemson’s front seven, led by one of the best front four’s in the game. The running backs were limited to 44 yards on 21 carries (2.1 avg.). The Aggies did hurt Clemson with screens as the running backs and tight ends combined for seven catches for 117 yards.
“They did a good job in the screen game of not tipping anything off,” Swinney said.
A&M’s tight ends and running backs tried to help the line neutralize Clemson’s defensive line, but the Tigers still had 10 tackles for loss, seven of them from the front four. It was the most TFLs by an opponent since Alabama had 11 in 2016.
A&M is ranked 26th by the coaches and 27th by the Associated Press. Arizona State (2-0) is 25th by the coaches with 92 points, only five more than the Aggies (1-1). Michigan State, which lost to Arizona State, is ranked 25th in AP with 104 points. Utah (2-0) is 26th with 92 points.
The Southeastern Conference has five teams ranked led by No. 1 Alabama, but the league had two teams drop from the rankings. South Carolina and Florida fell out after dropping SEC openers to Georgia and Kentucky, respectively.
Georgia is No. 3 in both polls, Auburn is No. 7 and Mississippi State No. 16. LSU is 12th by AP and 13th by the coaches.
A&M is a 27-point pick over Louisiana-Monroe for Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Kyle Field. The Warhawks have defeated Southeastern Louisiana 34-31 and Southern Miss 21-20.