Jimbo Fisher had a successful first season at Texas A&M because the Aggies built off an early loss to Clemson. That’s the challenge facing the A&M coach again after top-ranked Clemson grabbed a 24-10 victory Saturday.
The much-anticipated matchup was basically all Clemson, which wiped out a 3-0 lead with 24 unanswered points. The Tigers had a 351-215 edge in yardage from the time A&M’s Seth Small hit a 32-yard field goal early in the second quarter until Roney Elam intercepted Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with 5 minutes, 49 seconds left in the game.
Elam’s second interception of the season led to a 16-play, 91-yard drive capped by Jalen Wydermyer’s 2-yard touchdown reception with 6 seconds left. That fourth-down play made the score respectable and denied the Tigers a 12th straight victory by 20 or more points, which would have tied them with Alabama for the all-time record set the Crimson Tide set last season.
What that drive didn’t do is give A&M confidence moving forward. That was the case last year when the Tigers had to stop a two-point conversion with 46 seconds to hold on for a 28-26 victory.
A&M in the process of going 9-4 often mentioned that strong showing against the eventual national champions. Quarterback Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns, including 206 yards and two scores in just the fourth quarter. Mond had 10 completions of 20 or more yards in that game. But in the rematch, Mond had only one, a 20-yarder to Camron Buckley in the first quarter.
Clemson’s defense attacked Mond as if it had heard about how much the game meant to the Aggies. Mond was only 11-of-23 passing through first three quarters for 115 yards. He again closed strong, but it was too little, way too late. Mond and the offense will have to be much better moving forward for A&M to be successful with games left against No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 LSU and No. 8 Auburn.
Mond is taking the brunt of the blame for Saturday’s loss via social media, which typically will be the case in Fisher’s hands-on quarterback attack. But there is more than enough blame to go around. The receivers weren’t stellar, and A&M might never win a game under Fisher averaging 2 yards per rush. The defense gave up a touchdown on third-and-11 and also allowed Clemson to drive 89 yards for a touchdown just before the half.
Mond and the offense will be able to fine tune things in a glorified scrimmage against Lamar on Saturday before Auburn comes to Kyle Field on Sept. 21. The Tigers, who beat Oregon in the season opener, return seven starters from a defense that held A&M scoreless in the final 19 minutes last season as Auburn rallied for a 28-24 victory.
The game offers Mond and the offense a bounce-back opportunity, one they better take advantage of or a promising season would be slipping away.
NOTE — A&M slipped four spot to 16th in the Associated Press Top 25. The Aggies are ranked to 15th by the coaches.