Clemson's A.J. Terrell (8) blocks a pass intended for Texas A&M's Jhamon Ausbon during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
CLEMSON, S.C. — You certainly weren’t living under Howard’s Rock if you missed several Texas A&M players’ bold claims about their trip to Death Valley.
From offensive lineman Jared Hocker’s call for an A&M “upset” of Clemson to other players claiming they had full confidence they would return to College Station with a win over the reigning national champions, the Aggies made it clear they didn’t fear the Tigers.
Clemson had deserved confidence. And after Monday’s press conference, they had extra motivation. Finally, it was simply execution in the 24-10 victory that reaffirmed why the Tigers entered Saturday as the No. 1 team in the country.
“It’s the biggest game of the year, because it’s the next one,” Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “Coach [Dabo] Swinney always says that, and it’s true, and that’s how we think about every game, but it was a big game. Last year, a lot of people said it was lucky that we got out of [Kyle Field] with a win, so we wanted to leave no doubt this year.”
National championship rings are worth much more than the value of a few braggadocios statements of which A&M has made a habit of dropping lately.
Quarterback Kellen Mond kicked off the season claiming he believes he is the best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. A bold claim, but while not unbelievable, it needed a larger sample size of data to back it up.
Mond can throw away Saturday’s sample. He came out flat against the stoutest of competition with a potential NFL first-round draft pick hurling passes for the opposing side.
Mond’s first four passes failed to connect with a target, including a deep ball that fell well out of the reach of a streaking Cameron Buckley, who had burned past the Clemson secondary.
In the second quarter, Mond’s ball security turned the game on its head, and A&M never regained momentum. On a run-pass option, Mond tucked the ball and sprinted through a hole to the left, picking up 6 yards. However, a sandwich hit by two Clemson players sprung the ball from Mond’s arms, and it found its way into the belly of a Tiger linebacker.
A&M’s receiving corps did little to aid their struggling leader as every first-team receiver on the Aggies’ depth chart dropped at least one pass.
“I felt like they were a little inconsistent,” Mond said of his receivers. “I feel like if I would have given them chances early, they would have gotten in a groove.”
Clemson rattled off 17 unanswered points after Mond’s fumble. For the game, Mond completed 57 percent of his passes while throwing for 236 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Of that total, 121 yards and the touchdown came in the fourth quarter when Clemson rolled out a prevent-style defense to protect its 21-point lead.
Even then, with A&M’s defense holding Clemson to just 121 rushing yards and 24 points, a win wasn’t out of the question with a Jimbo Fisher offense consistently making plays. Last season, Clemson was held to fewer than 121 rushing yards three times with last year’s 28-26 Tiger victory at Kyle Field one of them.
After the game, Mond took the blame for his errors and said he wished he and his teammates had toned down the rhetoric this week.
“We didn’t execute the way we wanted to on offense,” Mond said. “I thought the defense did a really good job, one of the touchdowns coming off of my fumble and then pretty much holding them back. The offense had a lot of opportunities, and given those opportunities, we’ve got to do a lot better, starting with me.”
What’s left to be seen this season is if Mond and his teammates can find an intersection between talk and action on the football field, a point which their championship-winning coach understands.
“We have a good football team,” Fisher said. “But we have to play better, and I have to coach them better. So that’s on me to get them in the right positions at the right time and make sure they can understand what’s going on and play better.”