Texas A&M had several standouts in Saturday’s 28-26 loss to Clemson, starting with Kellen Mond’s 430 yards passing and a bevy of fellow sophomores making unbelievable catches.
But maybe the most encouraging thing for the Aggies was the play of A&M defensive front four and the linebackers. Three times in the second quarter Clemson could have taken a three-score lead and each time A&M’s defense prevented it with the front six leading the way.
Clemson’s first chance to put A&M in a big hole ended in A&M territory with linebacker Tyrel Dodson making a big tackle on first down, then forcing an incompletion on third down. Clemson picked up 9 yards on the first play on its next drive, but A&M tackle Justin Madubuike forced an incompletion and linebacker Otaro Alaka came up with a tackle behind the line on third-and-1, forcing a punt.
Clemson’s last first-half possession came after the Tigers blocked a 50-yard field goal. A&M thought it had a quick stop but freshman defensive end Jeremiah Martin was called for roughing the passer. Clemson took advantage to reach the 1, but fumbled on fourth down.
“I think that was a big improvement,” said senior defensive tackle Daylon Mack, recalling two years ago when the Aggies led top-ranked Alabama 14-13 and were called for a roughing the passer penalty on third down after an incompletion. Alabama took advantage to score en route to a 33-14 victory.
“This time, we stepped up and got a stop,” Mack said.
A&M didn’t force a turnover in the game and had only one sack, but Clemson converted only four of 13 third downs.
“I thought we played very well up front,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We were very physical. They talk about their front which is very good, but I thought our front was exceptional in the game.”
A&M’s front four had three tackles for 12 lost yards. They also more than held their own against a good Clemson offensive line to allow starting linebackers Dodson and Alaka to combine for 17 tackles.
A&M’s effort by the defensive line bodes well for upcoming Southeastern Conference matchups with Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and LSU. The unit along with the rest of the defense should get better as first-year coordinator Mike Elko settles in.
Fisher said the Aggies wanted to keep momentum in the third quarter when backup quarterback Nick Starkel replaced Mond, who was cramping. A&M stayed aggressive after the 23-yard Mond scramble by calling a play-action pass at the Clemson 21. Someone missed their block and Starkel was sacked and fumbled, jump-starting Clemson to a touchdown drive and a 21-6 lead.
A&M’s Sept. 22 game at Alabama will be televised by CBS at 2:30 p.m.
The rest of the SEC schedule that day is Georgia at Missouri (11 a.m., ESPN), Kent State at Ole Miss (11 a.m., (SEC Network), South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 3 p.m., SEC Network), Mississippi State at Kentucky, 6 p.m., (ESPN or ESPN2 or ESPNU), Louisiana Tech at LSU (6 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU), Arkansas at Auburn (6 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2; or 6:30 p.m., SEC Network), Florida at Tennessee (6 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2; or 6:30 p.m. SEC Network).
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