Thoughts From The Clemson Game

NCAAF 2018 Texas A&M vs Clemson Sept 8

It’s kind of hard to define what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night.  It certainly wasn’t a win on the scoreboard and it really didn’t feel like a moral victory either.  Sure, the Aggies never quit but the fact of the matter is they ran out of time 2 points shy of Clemson.  It was a loss.  For me, the definition of what happened was validation.  Validation this era of Aggie football is going to be different.  Validation the Aggies finally got the right coach and staff.  Validation we have a team that will learn how to win big.  Validation that Kyle Field is one of the best venues for college football anywhere in the world.  Validation we’re on our way to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

Coming into this season I wasn’t too worried about wins and losses.  If Jimbo gets us to at least 8 wins the long-term plan would be on track.  I don’t want the fool’s gold of 2012 where we had an amazing season but that was just it.  One season.  Nothing more.  I want Jimbo’s first year to be about a different look for Aggie football.  What we saw on Saturday sure makes it look like things will be different this time.  I saw a team that never quit but most importantly I saw a coaching staff that schemed to have a chance to beat a more talented team.  That Clemson team on Saturday night was more talented than A&M which is the difference for why Clemson won.  Coaching and execution had the Aggie team looking for a two-point conversion at the end of the game to send it overtime.  The Aggies fell short but there’s a LOT of positives to take away from this game.

For the first time since Alabama in 2013 something happened at Kyle Field.  The stadium fed off the team.  No doubt there were plenty of moments where the team fed off the fans, but this Aggie team didn’t quit.  If they didn’t believe in themselves Kyle Field would have been deflated.  The 64-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-3 had a lot of Aggie fans wondering if it was more of the same from the last 4 years.  Even worse was when the Aggies went down 21-6 late in the third quarter.  You could feel the excitement escaping from Kyle Field like we’d felt so many times in recent memory.  The excitement didn’t escape though.  The Aggie team fought back and Kyle Field roared back to life.  Man did it roar back to life.  For the final quarter of football the team and the stadium were willing each other to a win.  The 12th Man had been waiting on this moment.  The team was leading the way back and the 12th Man was ready to follow.

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.  I don’t see any reason why it’s not.  That was a team that learned to fight and most importantly learned it can compete with the best college football has to offer.  Maybe it’s a blip but this feels different.  This was coaching and playing.  This was a staff devising plays against a great team and players executing believing they’d come back.  No quit.  Just a clock that ran out of time.

Before I get to the breakdowns of units and players I can’t say enough about what Jimbo and the staff did on Saturday night.  They took a less talented team and went to the final second against the #2 team in the country.  Maybe Clemson isn’t the second-best team in the country but there’s no doubt they’re a Top 5 team.  That’s the best college football has to offer.  Defensively we held our own for most of the game other than a few big plays.  Offensively the play design and execution was something I hadn’t seen since 2012.  Our offensive staff had a very good idea of what Clemson was capable of and schemed against them.  What happened in the second half wasn’t luck.  It was awareness and preparation.  It was confidence too.  Coaches leading players and players following because they believed.  It sure feels like validation Aggie Football finally got it right when it came to hiring a coach.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

This was no doubt a team effort but Kellen Mond deserves MAJOR props for what he did on Saturday night.  At the end of last year I wondered if Mond would ever see another snap at Texas A&M.  He seemed destined to transfer like some other Aggie quarterbacks that lost their job.  Turns out we all forgot Kellen was a highly recruited 4 star quarterback and coaching really matters.  If you don’t believe me ask Kahlil Tate in Arizona how his Heisman chances are looking after his first two games.  Ask Deondre Francois at Florida State if he misses Jimbo.

I never expected Mond to have the game he did.  Statistically he was 23/40 for 430 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s a damn fine game considering he’s a true sophomore still getting his feel in a new system.  What impressed me most was not anything that shows up in the statistics.  What impressed me most was his awareness and confidence.  I’ll get to the receivers and line in a little bit as they deserve major props as well but Kellen Mond made some damn big throws in that game.  Anyone that says his receivers bailed him out didn’t really watch that game.  Mond let the ball fly and gave his receivers a chance to make big plays.  Don’t underestimate Mond’s willingness to let the ball go and throw passes in a game like that.

Mond has the ability to run but unlike some quarterbacks with the ability to run Mond did it as a last resort.  He used his legs to avoid pressure and buy time but he kept his eyes down the field looking to make a pass.  A lot of young guys would have tucked the ball and ran for what they could get against that Clemson defense.  Not Mond.  He hung behind the line of scrimmage for as long as he could hoping something would develop downfield and when he saw it he let the ball go.

The most impressive play of the game and defines what I’m talking about was the pass to Quartney Davis to make it a 28-20 game.  Clemson brought a linebacker blitz from the outside.  Kellen IMMEDIATELY notices it and prepares for it.  He times his spin out to the left perfectly to avoid the pressure but is still running for his life.  They key here is he never drops his hands below his waist and is looking to get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.  He’s running for his life but he’s still looking to make a throw.  He had a lot of green in front of him.  The easy play would have been to get the 5-15 yards by tucking the ball.  He was looking to make a play with his arm rather than his legs though.  He doesn’t have the speed of Johnny or Kyler Murray but he did have the athleticism and most importantly the awareness to make a BIG play.

Here’s the play.  Watch this thing over and over if you want.  Start and stop it during the play to process everything.  He picks up the blitz right away.  He waits to bail.  He spins at the right depth away from the defender.  He’s looking downfield.  His hands never drop below his waist and always has both hands on the ball.  He’s squaring his shoulders.  He sees Davis going back to an open spot.  He releases the ball right when he’s getting hit.  As Dave South once eloquently said, “He got a touchdown.”  That was a well-coached and confident quarterback that knew his limitations.  That wasn’t all luck.  I guarantee you Jimbo ran that play back and forth 10 times on Sunday in film telling Kellen what a great play it was.  And it was great.

I couldn’t get the video to embed at the right spot but fast forward to about the 2:02 mark and watch the play.  You can also click the link below it which will take you right to the play.  Sorry my Internetting is lacking where I can’t get the YouTubes and WordPress to sync up right.  You get what you pay for.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=napBx4gMovI&feature=youtu.be&t=122

It was a total team effort but Kellen deserves major props.  This is his team and he owned it on Saturday night.  I’m sure there will be some hiccups along the way but this isn’t last year’s Kellen Mond at all.  This is a well-coached quarterback with some great natural talent.  If you want to know why Kellen Mond won the quarterback battle go back and watch that play again.  The perfect combination of awareness, poise, and athleticism.

Wide Receivers:

Um, Kendrick Rogers, where have you been?  Right behind the effort of Kellen Mond is no doubt Kendrick Rogers.  I NEVER expected to see the production we saw out of that guy on Saturday night.  He caught 7 balls just outjumping Clemson defenders.  His two touchdown catches were beautiful with athleticism and concentration.  I had no idea he had that ability but I sure hope this is more than a one game deal from him.  He has the size and athleticism so there’s no reason to think there’s not more there from him.  7 catches for 120 yards and two pretty damn amazing touchdown catches sure doesn’t seem like a fluke.  Next to Mond he’s no doubt the offensive MVP.

Outside of Rogers the rest of the receiving corps was solid.  Buckley, Ausbon, Sternberger, Trayveon, and Davis all had key catches at time.  That was really the difference in the game as Clemson couldn’t shut down the whole receiving corps.  Mond made Clemson pay by finding and hitting the open guys.  The receivers did their job but catching the ball and getting yards after reception.

Through 2 games this receiving corps looks completely different than last year.  They seem more aware and ready for the ball looking to make a play.  Last week they were blocking really well in the ground game and this week they were going after balls.  This doesn’t seem like a receiving corps that’s waiting on the play or ball to find them like last season.  They want to go make the play.  This only helps Mond when he knows if he puts the ball up his guys are going to fight for it.  It’s only one game but this receiving corps looks MUCH deeper than I ever imagined.  And what’s crazy is we have some true freshman on the bench that likely won’t see the field based on what we saw Saturday night.  I’m totally okay with that.

Offensive Line:

I have to put them at third on this list but the offensive line was tremendous on Saturday night all things considered.  We really couldn’t establish the ground game for the most part.  We only gained 57 yards on the ground other than Mond’s runs.  I’m really surprised by this as I expected our ground attack to do better than our pass blocking.  That wasn’t the case but the offensive line did a fine job for what was there.

Kellen didn’t have a ton of time to throw but thanks to the offensive line he had enough time to throw all night for the most part.  Coaching also helped here as Jimbo and Dickey started moving Kellen around as well as started using Trayveon Williams out of the backfield.  The few times we ran screens they were well timed and well executed.  Mond was sacked three times but that was all in the first half I think.  They adjusted in the second half nicely giving Mond enough time to throw the ball.  Great job by the coaches and offensive line.

Probably the biggest compliment to pay this offensive line is you completely forgot they were playing the best defensive line in college football.  They still have some room to develop since we got stuffed on short yardage situations a couple of times.  I’m not complaining though as last year’s line would have been embarrassed.  This unit is still growing but they held their own against the best defensive line in college football for most of the night.

Running Game:

It seemed pretty clear Clemson’s goal coming into this game was to shut down the run.  That’s what they did with their defensive line.  Trayveon only averaged 1.8 yards per rush.  He’s not built for this type of defensive line because he needs to get to the second level to use his speed and wiggle.  This isn’t on Trayveon because the matchup never really favored us here.  Our offensive line couldn’t get him to the second level.  Great job by Jimbo and Staff recognizing it wasn’t there for the most part and adapting.  The Aggies never truly went away from the run so Clemson always had to think about it, but it was clear we weren’t running our way to yards and scores against that line.  They’re just too good.

Tray Williams is a great back but we did miss having someone like a Keith Ford or Tra Carson that could pound the ball a little more between the tackles.  It likely wouldn’t have made too much of a difference but we do miss that threat.  Just not much you can do against a defensive line where all four of their guys will be drafted in the first two rounds.  Just admit your deficiencies and try something else which Jimbo did and it worked for the most part.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

I thought the defensive line played really well.  147 yards on the ground isn’t ideal but Clemson has a very mobile quarterback.  That makes it hard to key in on the running back.  We didn’t give up any long touchdown runs.  We kept Travis Etienne corralled for the most part other than one 28-yard scamper.  He’s a very underrated back as if he gets to the second level he can flat out burn you.  Elko did a good job moving people in and out.  Kingsley Keke had his usual good game along with Landis Durham.  It didn’t show up on the stat sheet but Daylon Mack had a couple plays where he was completely disruptive blowing the center and guard off their blocks.  I don’t know if it’s scheme or want but it’s amazing how Mack can be so dominating at times and then get blocked other times.  I’m sure it’s a little of both.  Justin Madubuike really showed up in this game bringing pressure all game long.  He spent a lot of time in the backfield getting a sack and a quarterback hurry.  He’s only a sophomore but he seems like he keeps developing better and better every game.  Our defensive line isn’t as good Clemson’s defensive line but there’s no doubt this is a solid unit.  They just show up every game and do their job.

Linebacker:

Thanks to our defensive line Dodson and Alaka were freed up to make plays.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Not sure what else what to write here as these guys did their job plain and simple.  Dodson is probably the most underrated linebacker in the SEC and maybe even the country.  He led the team in solo tackles and even had a nice pass break up on the wide receiver reverse pass to their quarterback.  Was hoping he would come down with it but it was pretty good awareness.  He knocked the ball away so there was no chance of a completion.  Saw Anthony Hines in there a couple of times late in the game but don’t recall him doing much.  We still need to add some depth here but Dodson and Alaka just show up every week and clean up what the defensive line doesn’t take care of.  I’m totally okay with that as that’s how the front 7 is supposed to work.

Seems Donovan Wilson is kind of our third linebacker as Elko technically runs a 4-2-5.  This makes the third linebacker and safety situational.  Wilson fits in with Dodson and Alaka.  He may not seem all that dominant, but Wilson is as dependable as they get.  Whatever comes their way Dodson, Alaka, and Wilson are going to handle.  We could be MUCH worse than these three guys manning the middle of the play.

Secondary:

Coming into the season the position that concerned me the most beyond the offensive line was our cornerbacks.  I don’t think we have amazing talent at corner.  Certainly not upper level college football talent.  That showed up on Saturday night as we gave up two long 64 yard passes with one being for a touchdown.  We also gave up another 50 yard pass which set up a touchdown.  That’s 178 yards through the air on three plays which is over half their passing offense.  That’s too much.  I get giving up a big play here and there but our cornerback coverage is definitely the weakest part of our defense by far.  Clemson knew it and attacked it on several occasions.

I feel good about our chances against the run but if we’re going up against an offense that has strong deep threats and a quarterback that can get it to them we’re going t be susceptible to the deep ball.  We just don’t have the talent at corner to compete with great deep threats.  Along with depth at linebacker we must get more talented corners on campus and get them up to speed.  This won’t be the last time you see an opponent get a long touchdown against us.  It’s our Achilles heel and it’ll continue to get tested until we prove we can slow it down.

Safety wise the guys not named Donavan Wilson did okay.  I like Derrick Tucker’s long-term potential but he still makes some goofs from time to time.  Deshawn Capers-Smith doesn’t have Tucker’s talent but he doesn’t make the mistakes Tucker does.  We’ve got a lot of young talent at the safety position so we’ll be fine long term, but this really feels like a transition year from having Evans, Watts, and Wilson roaming the secondary like we’ve had the last few years.

 

Overall:

Clemson was 4 of 13 on third down conversions and failed on their only 4th down attempt.  They also held the ball for only 26 minutes.  Those two stats are all because of our front 7 doing what they do.  All in all this defense is starting to remind me of the 2012 unit but with a worse secondary.  It’s a really good unit with the front 7.  Much better than most people realize.  So far Elko looks to be an upgrade over Chavis as the front 7 is more fundamentally sound.  It doesn’t seem as prone to the goofs the Chavis defense would have at times and especially late in games.  We’re just going to give up big pass plays from time to time so get used to that.  At least against the teams that have fast receivers and quarterbacks with big enough arms.

Special Teams:

Obviously we know about LaCamera with his miss and block.  Obviously that makes Clemson feel like 2012 Florida and LSU.  Not sure it’ll come to that where we’re looking back at a missed field goal away from a potential national championship but I’m fine if so.  That will be a much better season than most expected.  He still hit two 40 yarders so he’s not terrible.  Kickers are going to miss so you’re better off being in a position where you don’t rely on them.  Even Alabama had a kicker a while back that routinely missed field goals which drove Saban wild.

No doubt the special teamer of the game was Braden Mann.  I can’t recall seeing a punter just driving a ball with no trajectory like he was.  He was knocking it low and deep all night.  I don’t know if he was doing it by design but it was working perfectly.  The way he was hitting it wouldn’t allow the return guy to set up underneath it so he was having to chase it like a center fielder on a deep line drive.  Clemson only had 9 yards of punt returns so whatever it was needs to keep happening.  Anytime you have a punter averaging 55 yards a punt and hits a 73 yarder with 9 return yards you’re doing something right.  Mann was tremendous.

On returns we didn’t really have anything spectacular but I thought Roshauud Paul did a nice job of knowing when to fair catch and return.  He had two returns off 14 and 11 yards which isn’t that long but shows he appears to have pretty good awareness.  Last thing you want on a punt return is to try and make a return when nothing is there.  That’s how fumbles happen.  If you don’t feel there’s anything to be gained get your arm up and call for the fair catch.  Make the catch and move on down the road.  Fumbled punts can really turn the momentum.  I like Paul’s apparent awareness in fielding punts.

 

Going Forward:

It’s hard not to like what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night even though the Aggies are now 1-1 on the season.  Alabama is in two weeks and that’s the biggest test of the season.  Based on what I’ve seen this season Alabama is a better football team than Clemson.  The Aggies have to get through Louisiana Monroe this weekend but I don’t see that being an issue.  At least I hope not.

Right now I’m leaving my season prediction at 8-4.  The SEC West is still looking strong with Mississippi State being better than I originally thought.  South Carolina might be a little worse but that Georgia game could be a wake up call for them.  Arkansas looks like an easier game and Ole Miss apparently has all offense and no defense.  LSU is still so far away it’s hard to predict that one.  Kentucky doesn’t look like the easy win either after they beat Florida in Gainesville.  Still a lot of football to be played only 2 games in.  I want to make sure that Clemson game wasn’t a blip before I chug all of my maroon Kool-Aid.  What I had on Saturday night sure tasted good though.

I will say after Saturday night this team might be closer to the 2012 team than I originally thought.  That team that played at Kyle Field can beat anybody left on their schedule not named Alabama.  I think there’s at least one more loss in there but I feel much better about Auburn and LSU right now than I did coming into the season.  Let’s see what we look like against Alabama and then we can figure out what could happen the rest of the way.  I said a realistic dream season was going 9-3 winning the bowl game finishing at 10-3.  That seems really possible right now.

If we play the rest of the season like we played Clemson there’s no doubt we’ll Make Aggie Football Great Again well ahead of schedule.

#MAFGA

 

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If you want a Make Aggie Football Great Again hat we have some coming in a week or two.  They’re $20 including shipping.  You’ll look great in one at Kyle Field or just around town!  You can email chewyredding at yahoo dot com for more information.  Payment can be made by PayPal or Venmo.

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