Texas A&M’s receivers had an eye-opening game last year against Clemson, but in Saturday’s rematch they often played as if they had their eyes closed, dropping seven passes.
The drops contributed to a sputtering passing attack that mustered only 115 yards through three quarters as top-ranked Clemson built a three-touchdown lead en route to a 24-10 victory. Bad hands along with a few poor throws by quarterback Kellen Mond and nine penalties allowed Clemson to take control with 24 unanswered points.
“It’s a matter of having the experience to make those critical plays,” A&M head football coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You’re right there eyeball to eyeball playing with them. It’s not like your talent level [is lacking] or anything else. We just have to keep playing and play better in those situations.”
Much was expected from the passing game in the rematch because it was the main reason last year’s game was so close. A&M rallied from a 15-point deficit to come up a two-point conversion short of overtime in the 28-26 loss. Mond threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns, including 204 yards and two scores in the fourth quarter. Kendrick Rogers had seven catches for 120 yards with two scores. Fellow sophomores Camron Buckley (four receptions, 93 yards) and Jhamon Ausbon (3-61) also had good games.
Even though they are a year older, they weren’t much of a factor Saturday, combining for 14 catches for 149 yards but no TDs.
“We had what we wanted [in coverage],” said Ausbon who had five catches for 56 yards. “We knew what we were going to see. We didn’t execute well. That’s what it comes down to.”
Mond had another solid fourth quarter, completing 13 of 19 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, but it only made the final score respectable as he failed to shake off a slow start. Mond missed Buckley on the second play of the game for what could have been a 75-yard TD pass and later missed Rogers on a drag route.
“That led to receivers dropping stuff and some miscommunication between the backs, and it just kind of went downhill,” Mond said.
Mond had 10 completions for at least 20 yards against Clemson last year but had only one Saturday.
“[There was] a lot of talk coming into this game about our secondary in last year’s game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “And those guys accepted that challenge, and that was good to see.”
Clemson’s defense produced two sacks, an interception, four quarterback pressures and six pass breakups. The Tigers’ starting cornerbacks, Derion Kendrick and A.J. Terrell, each had six tackles.
“We just did a tremendous job,” Swinney said. “We were well positioned all day. We made plays on the ball. I thought [Kendrick] was outstanding. I thought he had just a heck of a game. A.J. was tremendous. We were assignmentswise and put pressure on the quarterback.”
Ausbon said Saturday’s effort was disappointing because the receivers put so much preparation into the game. He’s confident the team will move forward with the receivers dropping the dropsies.
“You just go back to fundamentals, seeing it in,” Ausbon said. “Whenever you catch a ball, you catch it with your eyes, not your hands. Don’t make the moment bigger than what it is. It’s just a normal catch.”
Fisher said Saturday’s hiccups against the defending national champion are part of the learning process for a young team.
“I think we’re still growing to understand how to play at that level consistently and to do those things in those great moments,” Fisher said.
Ausbon said the challenge is to have a great game against an undermanned Lamar on Saturday before starting Southeastern Conference play against Auburn on Sept. 21.
“Great players don’t make the same mistakes. Great teams don’t make the same mistakes,” Ausbon said. “So I want to see how we bounce back from this and not make the same mistakes.”
NOTES — A&M and Opportune have partnered to give away 20,000 white T-shirts for fans sitting in the student section for A&M’s game against No. 8 Auburn at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at Kyle Field. The shirts will be given to fans sitting in the second and third decks on the east side of the stadium.