CLEMSON, S.C. — Minutes following a 59-minute manhandling, a pummeled Kellen Mond stood in a Memorial Stadium tunnel, absorbing what had shaken out between No. 12 Texas A&M and top-ranked Clemson.
His right cheek bruised, puffy and bloody, Mond took blame for the Aggies’ 24-10 loss to the Tigers, with A&M scoring its lone touchdown in the final of 60 game minutes.
“I didn’t play up to par and do what it takes to win a game against a team like this,” Mond said. “If I don’t play that way, I don’t expect anyone else to play that way.”
The Aggies’ veteran quarterback did indeed play poorly against the reigning national champions, but he hardly was alone. A&M failed to establish a running game to help him out, finishing with 53 yards on the ground, including a scant dozen after halftime.
“It would have helped big time,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said of getting the ground game rolling. “But they had an extra guy spying down in the box, and we missed a couple of blocks. We needed to get it going, no doubt.”
So did the Aggies’ receivers. An overly-amped Mond misfired plenty early in the game, but when he did find his targets, the ball slipped through their fingers more than they could count on one hand.
“We had about six dropped balls,” Fisher said. “If you make those plays, you get momentum, and all of a sudden you have confidence.”
The Aggies’ peak confidence occurred with six seconds remaining, when they finally punched the ball into the end zone on a 2-yard pass from Mond to tight end Jalen Wydermyer on fourth down.
“[Mond] kept battling and took us down there on two drives,” Fisher said of the final touchdown and a near-touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter.
Had Mond finished off the earlier drive, things might have been more interesting over the final nine minutes instead of A&M simply covering the point spread as time ran out. On the 10th play of the ultimately failed drive, a hurried Mond lobbed a pass toward the goal line that was intercepted by Clemson safety Tanner Muse.
“You have to make critical plays at critical moments,” Fisher said. “We had a chance to score with 10 minutes to go, and at 24-10 you’re still in the ball game.”
But that score with six seconds to go only had bettors chatty as time expired. Clemson was a 17-point favorite and for the first time in a dozen games failed to win by at least 20 points. A&M (1-1) can at least take some solace in that it plays one of the nation’s two most powerful programs — along with No. 2 Alabama — closer than most.
A year ago Clemson edged A&M 28-26 in College Station as the Aggies failed to score on a two-point conversion with 46 seconds remaining. That turned out to be the Tigers’ closest scrape of the season en route to a second national title in the last three years.
“Last year we kind of left some doubt,” said Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, an early Heisman Trophy candidate. “We wanted to leave no doubt this year.”
The Tigers did not, and earlier in the week they also avoided a war of words with A&M and braggadocios offensive lineman Jared Hocker, who promised an upset on the home field of Clemson (2-0), where the Tigers have won 17 consecutive games.
“We didn’t want to play into any of that stuff — we just wanted to do our talking on the field,” said Lawrence, who finished 24 of 35 for 268 yards and a touchdown with one interception. “It’s not about who talks. It’s about who shows up and plays.”
A&M’s defense, save for a couple of too-aggressive penalties that extended Clemson drives, played mostly well under second-year coordinator Mike Elko. Clemson failed to score in the first quarter, and the Aggies briefly led 3-0 early in the second quarter.
“We didn’t stay on the gas ... we let off the gas and they took advantage of it,” A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson said. “We’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to bring more next time, and we have no excuses for that.”
The Aggies return home for a breather against Lamar of the Southland Conference next Saturday before opening Southeastern Conference play against Auburn on Sept. 21 at Kyle Field.
“[Clemson] is a good football team, and we have a good football team,” Fisher said. “But we have to play better, and I have to coach them better.”