Clemson Football

Vindication from College Station

September 8, 2019
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CLEMSON -- Kellen Mond and his receiving corps were simply magical last year as they pushed Clemson to the brink amidst 104,000 fans in College Station.

Throw after throw, miraculous catch after miraculous catch - the Tigers managed to barely escape what would’ve been a tough pill to swallow early in the season.

That same magic we witnessed this time a year ago was nowhere to be found in this year’s contest.

There would be no fairy-tale pixie dust this time around as No. 1 Clemson completely smothered Texas A&M into dust with a 24-10 final score that was closer than the actual game indicated.

“We feel like we left a little doubt in this game last year,” Swinney said after the win. “I feel like our guys accepted the challenge.”

The Tigers have now won nine of their last 10 games against SEC opponents and 17 straight games overall.

Dabo Swinney is now 17-9 against SEC opponents as a head coach.

“We feel like we left a little doubt in this game last year,” Swinney said after the win. “I feel like our guys accepted the challenge.”

After hearing all offseason, and practically so far this season, about the 500 total yards of offense they gave up and that final quarter of play at Kyle Field where Aggie receivers were running wild, Clemson’s secondary answered the call.

There was no doubt.

The Tigers vindicated that performance from a year ago with a resounding statement. The kind of statement that said, “Hey, this defense may seem like its rebuilding, but it’s actually reloaded.”

This defense that we said needed to grow up on Saturday? Yeah, they continue to grow, and at a rapid pace, too.

And it was all thanks to defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ masterful game calling all the shots. He and Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher have had some tight chess matches between the two over the course of their careers, but not this time.

The Tigers completely shut down the Aggie offense with a variety of defensive looks that made now-junior Kellen Mond look underwhelming - even lost - at times. He turned the ball over twice, the first on a Nolan Turner forced fumble and the second came on a Tanner Muse interception on the goal line.

Clemson held Fisher’s offense to 289 total yard, only 53 of them rushing.

“They’re grown men that have worked their butts off,” Venables said of his defense. “They take a lot of pride and took a lot of the things that were talked about (this offseason) to heart.”

But after three quarters of play, the Aggies only had 144 total yards to Clemson’s 327. At that point, the game felt out of reach.

“They’re grown men that have worked their butts off,” Venables said of his defense. “They take a lot of pride and took a lot of the things that were talked about (this offseason) to heart.”

If you had said Clemson’s offense would’ve only had 24 points on the afternoon, we would have asked if those points came in the first half. A 17-point second quarter proved to be the difference.

After a slow start of 11 total plays in the first quarter, the Tigers finally got rolling after a Texas A&M field goal. We wrote in our Last Look that Trevor Lawrence’s legs, not Mond’s, would be the difference in a Clemson win, and that looked evident when Lawrence rolled left on third-and-11 and found a wide-open Ross for a 30-yard score.

Lawrence, who finished the day 24-of-35 for 268 yards, was not finished there.

We don’t experience deja vu often, but when Lawrence got the ball back on Clemson’s own 6-yard line with 3:26 left in the first half, we felt it immediately.

It was so similar to how Clemson drove right down the field against Notre Dame in last year’s Cotton Bowl. An 18-yard run from Lyn-J Dixon, 14-yard completion to Tee Higgins, and 6-yard run from Travis Etienne on 3rd-and-three set Clemson up pretty at the 50-yard line.

Then, Lawrence rolled to his right and was pulled down by the horsecollar late, just like against Notre Dame. Lawrence hopped up and stared the defensive lineman down. He pumped up the crowd and was fired up.

On the very next play, Lawrence found Tee Higgins for an insane 25-yard catch - the same type of catch Kellen Mond and Quartney Davis connected with a year ago. Lawrence then managed to muscle in two plays later for his second rushing touchdown of the season.

Clemson Sports Talk
Clemson’s defense harassed Kellen Mond throughout the Tigers’ 24-10.

To put the game away when it was teetering, it was all Clemson’s rushing attack in the third quarter as it slowly pounded Texas A&M to death. Dixon led Clemson’s running backs with 79 rushing yards on 11 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown to cap off a 7-play, 83-yard drive and give Clemson a 24-3 lead.

The Tigers finished the game with 389 yards of total offense, which on most days would be viewed as a success for defenses trying to stop this offense filled to the brim with talent.

We came into Saturday’s game expecting Clemson to get tested, to have to sweat a bit and respond to any sort of adversity. Instead, the only exciting part of the second half came in the final few seconds when we would see the Tigers eventually lose its 11-game win streak of wins by 20+ points come to an end.

Other than that, it was more of the same for the team that probably just faced its toughest competition before January. 

Some struggles here and there to grow upon, but a record that remains unblemished.

All due to a defense that had everything to prove. It was a vindication of last year’s performance at College Station.

“I don’t know if we proved anything that we didn’t already know,” safety Tanner Muse said. “I think it just kind of showed the world. We know what we got. We are going to keep coming week in and week out and try to put the best show on display.”

 
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