After dispatching the Furman Paladins last week with relative ease, Clemson went on the road to College Station to take on the Texas A&M Aggies, led by former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, for their first real test of the season on a wet night.
A&M took the opening kickoff and downed it in the end zone. The Aggies’ drive started well with some outside runs and a pass that caught Trayvon Mullen out of position. The Tigers missed an opportunity to recover a fumble and A&M continued to move down the field, but the Tiger defense stiffened in the red zone and the Aggies missed a 26-yard field goal attempt. The Tigers started with a wide screen but Amari Rodgers couldn’t haul it in and stay on his feet. On 3rd and 8, center Justin Falcinelli got whipped by the Aggie nose tackle and Kelly Bryant took the sack. The Tigers punted it away.
A&M started their next possession in good field position, on their own 45 yard line. The Aggies moved down the field by targeting the middle of the Tiger defense with crossing routes. A&M then dropped some passes and the drive stalled when the Tigers sniffed out a screen pass, leading to another FG attempt. This time the kick was good and A&M led 3-0.
The Tigers downed the kickoff in the end zone and the offense took over at the 25. Bryant was unable to get the snap off in time and the offense was in a 1st and 15 hole right away. But a couple of plays later, Bryant hit Rodgers with a short pass, and Rodgers then took off for a 64-yard gain. On 3rd and 13, Travis Etienne caught a screen pass and got down to the 1 yard line. Bryant then planted an A&M defender’s feet in concrete with a paralyzing move and cruised into the end zone. The extra point put the Tigers up 7-3.
The Aggies responded with a drive that started well with QB Kellen Mond scrambling for good yardage as the first quarter ended. The Tiger defense then asserted their will and sent the Aggie offense to the sideline. After the punt, Trevor Lawrence came out to lead the Tiger offense from their own 36 yard line. Lawrence then hit Tee Higgins, who made a beautiful leaping catch and took it to the house. Just like that it was 14-3 in favor of Clemson.
After a touchback, the Aggies started their drive by giving up a sack. The Tiger defense came out to play on this series, putting a lot of pressure on Mond, keeping A&M from doing anything. Rodgers took a fair catch on the punt and the Tigers took over at their own 38 yard line. The drive started well, but stalled at the A&M 43 yard line.
The punt put the Aggies at their 8 yard line. On 3rd and 1, the Tigers held but the Aggie punter got off a 64-yard punt, putting the Tigers at their 15. The offense got into a 3rd and 1 situation and couldn’t convert as an Aggie linebacker got to Lawrence before he could get to the line of scrimmage. The ensuing A&M drive looked like it was about to end, but a pass deflected by Dexter Lawrence ended up in the hands of an A&M receiver to convert 3rd down. The defense recovered and held strong on the next 3rd down, forcing a 50-yard FG attempt. Big Dex blocked the kick and the Tigers took over at the 43 yard line with Bryant back at QB.
On 3rd and 6, Bryant sailed a pass to Hunter Renfrow but was roughed on the play, keeping the drive alive. Etienne ripped off a nice 28-yard run down to the A&M 10. The Tigers pushed down to the 1 yard line, but on 4th and 1 a bad snap gave A&M the ball as the Tigers came away with nothing. The Tiger defense forced a 3-and-out but the A&M punter boomed another one, putting the Tigers at their 33. An Adam Choice run ended the half with Clemson leading 14-0.
The Tigers started with the ball at the beginning of the second half. A bad snap on 2nd down put them in a hole they couldn’t get out of, and they punted the ball away. A good return by A&M gave them the ball at their own 43. Mond made a nice throw on 1st down to put them on the Tiger 31. On 3rd and 2, the Tiger defense held and forced another A&M FG to make the score 14-6.
Cornell Powell took the kickoff out of the end zone but got nailed at the 16 yard line. Lawrence came out at QB with the offense but the Aggies blitzed hard on the series and forced a 3-and-out. Another good punt return put A&M at their 40. A nicely executed screen moved the Aggies to the Clemson 43. Mond scrambled away from the Tiger pressure and got to the 21 before being forced out of bounds. Mond went out of the game with a cramp. Clelin Ferrell then strip sacked the backup QB on the next play, and Justin Foster recovered it before it even hit the ground.
Bryant brought the offense back in and instantly hit Higgins on a long pass into the red zone. After Bryant and Etienne runs, Diondre Overton caught a laser from Bryant in the end zone. The score was 21-6 Tigers with about 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. When A&M came out, they started with a long pass down to the Tiger 9. On the next play, Mond had about 3 hours to throw the ball and found his receiver in the back of the end zone. The Tiger lead was cut to 8 points, 21-13.
After the kickoff, Bryant responded with a long pass to Renfrow and a nice run to put the Tigers at the Aggie 24. A reverse pass from Renfrow to Bryant didn’t work, but a pass to Rodgers and then one to Renfrow moved the chains for a first and goal. A shovel pass to Etienne almost got it into the end zone but on the next play he took a pitch to the outside and walked in untouched. Clemson was up 28-13.
Some good screen plays and a stupid roughing the passer penalty by Christian Wilkins moved the Aggies down to the Tiger 14 on their next possession. Mond was almost sacked by Isiah Simmons but scrambled and connected with his receiver in the end zone. Clemson led by 8, 28-20. Bryant again came out at QB for the Tigers’ next drive and moved the chains with his arm and legs. One thing the Tiger QBs were missing all night was good reads by the QBs when defensive backs were blitzing. A&M’s defense forced Clemson to punt with about 12 minutes left.
A&M’s next drive continued to expose some weaknesses in the Tiger secondary. Ferrell had a sack but the Aggies completed a pass to make it 3rd and 3, but A&M converted it. Later K’von Wallace almost had an interception but couldn’t quite hang on to it. The Tigers did force a punt, which went into the end zone. Bryant had a great run on first down to put Clemson at the Tiger 47. The drive then fizzled when Bryant couldn’t find Rodgers on 3rd down. A Will Spiers punt was fair caught at the A&M 15.
Mond stayed after the Tiger secondary and completed a 30-yard pass and then another long one down to the Tiger 27. The Tigers almost gave up a touchdown but an A&M fumble near the goal line barely went out of the end zone, giving Clemson a touchback. A review of the play failed to overturn the call on the field. It was certainly close. I’m sure Aggie fans will be grousing about that call for a while. An overly conservative possession by the Tigers and a 22-yard punt made the end of this game more stressful than it needed to be.
A couple of pass plays, one with a pass interference penalty put the Aggies at the Tiger 27. Wallace tipped the next pass but again it landed in the hands of an A&M receiver in the end zone, making it 28-26 Tigers. The Aggies failed to make the 2-point conversion, setting up an onside kick. Renfrow covered the kick, and a sigh of relief was heard throughout Tiger nation. A couple of kneel downs secured the 28-26 victory for Clemson.
The Tiger defense looked a little rough around the edges tonight, especially in the secondary. You know Fisher is going to use his tight ends, but the Clemson defense let them run free much too often. Don’t panic, it’s early in the season but the Tigers clearly have some work to do. We’ll have some great in-depth analysis for you in the next few days, so check back with us. In the meantime, enjoy this victory and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.