Clemson, SC (reporting from home due to sudden illness) –
Trevor Lawrence returned to form, and Kellen Mond had a bad game. That was enough for Clemson to dominate A&M in a 24-10 slugfest.
It took a quarter for Clemson to fire on all cylinders, though. BT Pottter missed a 47-yard field goal on Clemson’s opening possession in what proved to be a mostly uneventful first quarter.
The Aggies spent most of the first quarter ‘establishing the run’ with relative success, playing keep away and converting a 4th-and-1 on the ground.
Establishing the run isn’t what matters though, just ask Clemson. Elite running back Travis Etienne was bottled up by Elko’s excellent defense, and the Tigers only gained 46 yards (18 att.) on the ground in the first half.
What matters is the quarterback and the passing game, and that is where Clemson holds a distinct advantage and will as long as Trevor Lawrence is the healthy starting quarterback.
Lawrence didn’t even set records in the hottest kickoff in Death Valley’s history – he didn’t need to.
The first ‘wow’ moment was the dagger – where Clemson won the game. Fisher’s game plan was to bottle up Etienne at all costs, but in doing so he failed to account for the transcendent quarterback in shotgun.
Lawrence saw he was under pressure, so he rolled left all the way near the sideline. At the last moment, he flipped his hips and launched a 30-yard pass to the end zone where two Clemson receivers were open and waiting.
Ross and Higgins made several incredible catches, Amari Rodgers returned to action with loud cheers, and Clemson’s defense stymied the Aggies as they raced through the second quarter to a 17-3 halftime lead.
The second half mainly consisted of Clemson clamping its hold onto the lead, and Texas A&M frantically trying to force their way back in the game to no avail.
Clemson stretched the lead to 24-3 in the middle of the third quarter, and Texas A&M almost responded with an impressive 69-yard drive.
Almost. Just when the Aggies were close to scoring, Clemson’s pass rush forced Kellen Mond to underthrow a lob that Tanner Muse snatched out of air on the one-yard line.
The Aggies defense (appeared) to do what the Aggies offense couldn’t do and posted points on the board by forcing a safety.*
*Until an odd sequence of events occurred. The referees called a twelve men on the field penalty against the Aggies, negating the safety. The call was blatantly wrong, which the referee acknowledged after a long video review. However – because the whistle was blown prior to the snap, the play could not be reversed and the play didn’t happen.
While Venables won the matchup of minds, Jimbo Fisher managed to fit in a final jab as Wydermyer scored the lone touchdown with six seconds left in the game to cover the spread and earn some pride.
The difference in this long-awaited matchup doesn’t appear on paper – the box score nor the recruiting stars.
What were the differences? The superior conditioning of the Clemson players. The NFL-level talent in the Tigers aerial attack. Kellen Mond failing to repeat last years’ gutsy impressive performance.
The differences were the intangibles.