Thoughts From The Clemson Game

Before I get to anything about the actual game I want to say this – Despite what an offensive lineman and someone that sells maroon Kool-Aid for subscriptions said last week, Texas A&M was never beating Clemson.  Sure, Texas A&M could have beat Clemson but the reality is Texas A&M wasn’t.  It’s disappointing to lose but the odds of an Aggie victory were never really that good.

This is Clemson’s best team under Dabo Swinney.  This is Texas A&M’s hardest game of the season.  Bama, Georgia, and LSU won’t be much easier but this was the toughest game on Texas A&M’s schedule.  Clemson is the most talented team we’ll face, it was on the road, and it was early in the season.  All those factors line up to make a win damn near impossible.

I think too many Aggie fans got caught up in the belief that 2012 Bama was going to happen again.  That would have been great but this team ain’t the 2012 Aggie team.  They’re not even close.  They’re still a pretty good football team but this is not a team that’s going to take down the top ranked defending national title holder.  It’s disappointing to see a reminder of that but that’s what happened in Clemson.

We certainly could have won that game but this team wasn’t really capable.  Too much youth and lacking in talent at key positions.  Clemson is the much more talented team so A&M needed to play a perfect game which they clearly didn’t.  Playing a perfect game in any sport is pretty rare.

It’s okay to be disappointed the Aggies didn’t win it should have been expected when you step back and look at the reality of the situation.

One final thing before getting to the game is Clemson fans are amazingly nice.  I went to the game in 2005 and was blown away by how hospitable they were.  Not much has changed since then.  They’re still amazingly friendly to visiting fans.  It’s a great place to visit and if you’re a Clemson fan you should be super proud of how the entire program and fanbase handles itself.

Offense:

Overall:

This offense other than three drives was not good at all.  We had 11 total drives so almost 75% of our drives were total garbage.  The fact that we covered is a testament to our defense and Clemson dropping some key balls.  It wasn’t a testament to our offense at all.

There wasn’t one player or one unit on offense that stood out at all.  Pretty much everyone on the offense contributed to a hot pile of garbage.

Let’s get to those units:

Kellen Mond:

I’ll start with the most obvious and everyone’s favorite lightening road.  At the end of the day Kellen Mond’s overall statistics didn’t look so bad.  He wound up being 24 of 42 for 236 yards with 1 touchdown pass and 1 interception.  That’s not a great day but it’s not a bad day at all when just looking at the numbers.  That’s only a 57% passer but to be totally fair his receivers probably dropped 6 passes.  If they catch those balls his completion percentage shoots up to 71%.  That would have been a solid day.

That’s enough accolades for Mond as most of his completions came on the final two drives of the game when it was clear Texas A&M was not going to win the game.  Mond was 13 of 19 for 121 yards on the final two drives.  If you take away those two drives then he was 11 of 23 for 115 yards which puts him at just below 50% for completions on the day.  That’s not good.  Roughly half of his passing production came on the final two drives of the game.  For the first 9 offensive possessions of the game Mond didn’t do much at all through the air.  Add in his fumble in the 2nd quarter and Mond was outright pitiful when the game mattered most.

This was easily Mond’s worst performance of his Aggie career.  I can’t think of redeeming quality from his performance on Saturday.  I’ve been pretty clear I don’t think Mond is the type of quarterback that will take over a game but he didn’t do anything at all against Clemson.  I certainly expected a lot more out of Kellen Mond against Clemson.

What the main issue was I have no idea.  The thing that looked different to me is he wasn’t really going through his reads.  As the game wore on it looked like he had already made his decision where he was going to pass when the ball was snapped.  For most of the game it appeared that once he had the ball he was looking one way and really for one receiver.  He wasn’t really making reads.  I don’t know if that was the purpose of the multiple clap snap count or not.

He was off from the start of the game.  We all know he missed Cam Buckley on the second play of the game for an easy touchdown.  He missed his first four passes and wouldn’t complete a pass until his first attempt of the third possession.  Maybe it was nerves but it shouldn’t have been.  He’s a junior that started every game last year including big games and this opponent.  If he was uneasy to start this game we have big problems.

His worst play by far was putting the ball on the ground when the Aggies were holding onto an early lead.  I know he got hit pretty hard but he has to hold onto the ball in that situation.  He’s shown to be a little careless with the ball on the ground in games against Auburn, Ole Miss, and now Clemson.  Jimbo likes to use Kellen’s legs and for good reason but Kellen must anticipate hits better and protect the ball.  He can’t be coughing up the ball when his legs are being used.  He certainly can’t do it in a big moment of a game.

I suppose some people will give Mond a pass on the day for his work on the final two drives but I’m not.  You can’t lay an egg for the first 9 possessions and get credit for the last two drives.  That’s like failing every exam for most of the semester and then doing well enough on the final two exams to barely pass the class.  It’s still a really bad C effort.  Winners make As in games like this.

Somehow Kellen had his best game of his Aggie career against Texas State and then had his worst game against Clemson.  Two games and two drastically different performances.  I now believe the reality is Kellen is somewhere between these two games.  It looks like 2018 Kellen might be the real Kellen despite what Jimbo has said all off season.  He certainly didn’t show up in the biggest game of his career.  Great quarterbacks show up in the greatest games and Kellen didn’t do that.  It’s fair to question if Texas A&M can ever win the SEC West with Kellen under center.  Totally fair.

Obviously Jimbo isn’t benching Kellen anytime soon but I think Jimbo has to be thinking, “Uh oh.  2018 Kellen might be the real Kellen and I’m not sure I can win a championship with that guy.”  Kellen needs to respond against Auburn and Arkansas before the bye week and Alabama coming to town.

Despite their ranking at #8 Auburn is VERY beatable at Kyle.  Arkansas is also VERY beatable.  If Kellen struggles against Auburn, Arkansas, and Alabama then I’m fine with Jimbo benching him for Calzada.

For the sake of the 2019 Aggie football season let’s all take a deep breath and hope this was the anomaly in Kellen’s career.  If the next three SEC games show us that 2018 Mond is the actual Mond then Jimbo is going to have a major decision to make.  Kellen has three more games to show us he’s really advanced like has been talked about all off season.

Wide Receivers:

I had concerns about this unit coming into the season.  Texas State made me question my concerns.  Clemson made me feel vindicated in those concerns.  I don’t like being vindicated at all but this receiving corps is not as good as the internal hype it was getting during the off season and Summer Camp.

Mond certainly wasn’t on his game but these guys dropped some key balls and failed to make any big plays after catching the ball.  The longest reception of the game was for 20 yards when Cam Buckley caught a short ball and made a couple defenders miss for a first down.  These guys simply have problems getting open against better defenses and then don’t do much after they catch the ball.

Jhamon Ausbon was the only guy that seemed to really do much at all.  Kendrick Rogers had some nice catches on the final two drives but I still contend he’s not good at catching the ball when his feet are moving fast.  Rogers effort was too little and definitely too late.  Quartney Davis wound up with 59 yards on 5 catches so not terrible but he had some big drops including a potential touchdown.  I think the reality is Davis is a streaky receiver.

Other than Ausbon I don’t see a receiving corps that’s able to just go get the ball or even separation.  Even Ausbon is in question on that but he just looks better and more consistent than the rest.

This is basically the exact same unit from 2018 so I’m beginning to think last year was what this receiving corps is about.  All of the off season and Summer Camp talk about major improvements was just that.  Talk.

Like Kellen we’ll find out if this unit is truly improved over the next three SEC games.

As for tight end, outside of the touchdown on the final offensive play there is no production from our tight ends to talk.  That’s DEFINITELY a drastic change from last season.  We’re clearly missing Jace Sternberger and that could be the greatest difference in Kellen Mond.  He lost his best receiver and there’s no one close to what Jace did last season.

Offensive Line:

I really thought this offensive line was serviceable on the first three drives but then it fell apart.  On the first three drives Kellen had a pocket and Corbin was ripping off some decent runs.   Not dominant by any stretch but serviceable.  I think starting on the 4th possession of the game Clemson decided A&M wasn’t going to attack downfield so they started applying pressure.  Once they started applying that pressure A&M’s weaknesses were exposed.

Mond suddenly started getting pressure and Corbin wasn’t ripping off runs with any real yardage.  On a few occasions Clemson ran a delayed blitz and A&M wasn’t ready for it at all.  Statistically there were only 2 sacks and 4 quarterback hurries but if you watched the game you know the statistics aren’t telling the truth.  The Clemson defense was applying a ton of pressure at the line of scrimmage and the Aggie offensive line had no answer to combat it.

4 false starts were not good at all and proof of their struggles.  They were playing in a loud stadium but it wasn’t impossible to hear or know the snap count.  That was just a line that felt overmatched both physically and mentally.

I’ve been adamant there’s just not enough offensive line talent on the roster to compete in the SEC.  I believe that even more after the Clemson game.  What should be done I’m not sure.

Kenyon Green was listed as a starter but I don’t recall seeing him much of the game.  Not sure if he got hurt and if so how bad it was.  I still believe he should move to left tackle and start his trial by fire.  Dan Moore is not the answer at left tackle.  Carson Green seemed to really struggle in this game so maybe the combination of Kenyon Green, Hocker, Prater, McCollum and Dan Moore at right tackle is the best.

Until Jimbo gets in more talent across the board this line is just going to struggle.  I think plain and simple this offensive line just isn’t talented enough and until the personnel changes this unit is going to continually have issues against better opponents.  Not a warm and fuzzy feeling but talent matters and it’s not there.

Running Back:

Obviously we know Corbin is out for the season.  I feel terrible for the guy as I thought he’d looked solid when he was in there.  He was running much more assertive and grinding out yards.  He didn’t rip off any big runs but I feel like he was moving the ball through the first three possessions until Clemson started applying pressure.

As for life after Corbin I really like what I’ve seen from Spiller.  I know he hasn’t been in the starter role but I feel like Spiller can fill in just fine.  I’m certainly not happy losing Corbin but I think we might be okay.

Backing up Spiller will likely be Jacob Khabodi.  He has plenty of talent but has just been inconsistent holding onto the ball.  Maybe with more repetitions he’ll get better.  We’ll just have to see.

As for the Clemson game we didn’t do much in the running game for a host of reasons.  Mainly there weren’t holes and we were playing from behind for a good portion of the game.  Corbin averaged 2.6 yards and Spiller averaged 3.4 yards on 20 total carries.  Corbin’s longest run was 8 yards and Spiller’s longest was 11 yards.

Not terrible but not great either.  After the first two games my belief is that Trayveon was greater than we realized our offensive line just isn’t that great.  Maybe Spiller proves me wrong on replacing Trayveon as he’s got the opportunity to show off his ability.

Jimbo:

For the first time in this blog I’m going to question Jimbo as head coach and offensive coordinator.  I think Jimbo is a great play designer and play caller but if I have one complaint about him it’s this – so far at Texas A&M he has no sense of urgency when he’s down against better opponents.

Against Clemson and Alabama last season and then Clemson this season he’s been down by 15 points or more.  In each of those games I feel like he’s shown no urgency or effort to mount a major comeback.  Maybe he believes defeat is inevitable and is simply managing a blowout and working on a normal game plan for development.

If that’s true and why that is I have no clue.  I went back and looked at something that I found intriguing.  How many touchdown passes of longer than 40 yards do you think A&M has had in Jimbo’s time at A&M against SEC teams and Clemson?  One.  That’s right, one.  There’s only been one touchdown pass longer than 40 yards against a quality opponent.  That was a 46 yarder to Jace Sternberger against Kentucky last season.

There’s basically been no big touchdown passes in Jimbo’s time at A&M.  I get Jimbo likes being methodical and believes in his play design but at some point when you’re down against superior opponents you have to take a shot at a homerun play.  Maybe Jimbo doesn’t believe in his offensive line or his quarterback and receivers to go deep.

Whatever it is Jimbo hasn’t gone deep in games.  I think that’s hurt us trying to mount a comeback against superior opponents like Bama and Clemson.  It’s also hurt us in games like Auburn and Mississippi State last year as we allowed them to stay in the game and they pulled it off in the end.

At some point I feel like this offensive is going to need to take shots downfield.  If not, we’re going to struggle to score points against teams that can bring pressure and press coverage.

Maybe I’m wrong but if Jimbo doesn’t figure out a real deep threat the better defenses are going to continue to learn how to defend our offense.  If/When that happens the offense will struggle to churn out yards and score points and lose games.  That will be on Jimbo.

There is a point when winning time of possession doesn’t matter.  We won time of possession against Clemson but we never came close to winning that game at any point.  I’m fine with methodical but at some point a killer instinct must be shown from time to time.

Defense:

Overall:

I think the Aggie defense played a strong game.  I also think they were also helped by some key drops by the Clemson offense.  As good as he is I feel Justyn Ross had some key drops where Clemson could have blown the doors off the game.  It didn’t happen so I credit the Aggie defense for hanging in there and holding Clemson to 24 points.

Since Trevor Lawrence took over at quarterback Clemson has scored under 30 points just one time.  They scored 27 points against Boston College last season.  That was a night game in Boston in November with a temperature of 34 degrees at kickoff.  I’m not really into moral victories but you must give credit to the Aggie defense.  They’ve held the Trevor Lawrence lead offense to the least amount of points in a game.  That’s a pretty solid accomplishment.  Maybe John Sharp will give Jimbo a plaque to go next to the hopeful National Championship plaque.

Defensive Line:

These guys played great.  I wanted more out of these guys but they did everything they could.  I was hoping to see Madubuike have his national coming out party but that didn’t happen.  He got hurt early in the game and I don’t think he was at full strength the rest of the game.  We also had an injury to Jayden Peevy which hurt our depth.

What this unit did do was hold Travis Etienne to 53 yards rushing with his longest run being for 10 yards.  You may not know much about Travis Etienne but this guy is probably the most unheralded running back in college football.  He’s got a legit homerun gear and it’s a credit to the Aggie defensive line they never let him find it.

The reality of this unit is they’re not going to apply a lot of pressure by themselves.  They’re big into gap assignment to shut down the run and slowly collapse the pocket.  I’m good with that as shutting down the run in the SEC is the first thing you have to do compete against the best teams.

This game did expose something I’m interested to see how the coaches respond to.  Clemson’s first touchdown drive in the 2nd quarter was against our second team defensive line.  It looked like Clemson quickly realized this and called some plays that were very effective as they were able to drive down the field.  Clemson scored on a brain fart where the secondary left Justyn Ross alone and Lawrence found him for a 30-yard score.  I wonder if the first team defensive line could have kept Lawrence from rolling out preventing that score.

It was really the only thing that stood out to me.  It’ll be interesting to see if teams pick up on our second unit not being as good as our first unit and attacking that unit differently.

Either way this unit is a carry over from last year where they’re just as steady as it gets.  This is the best unit on the Aggie team and it’s not even close.

Linebacker:

The more I watch this unit the more I like them.  Buddy Johnson can flat out play football.  His play of the game was when he shot the gap and tackled Etienne for a 6-yard loss that set up a 3rd and 11.  Tackling Etienne for a 6-yard loss is a major feat.  That takes serious instinct and speed.  I know they scored a touchdown on the next play but Johnson set up the Aggie defense for a big stop to settle for a field goal attempt after Mond’s fumble and when Clemson was driving.  Players make plays and that was a play by Buddy Johnson.

Anthony Hines is still knocking the rust off after sitting out a season but he’s looked good from an athleticism standpoint.  I’m ready for him to be dominant but I feel good he can get there.  At worst he’ll be solid.

I’m going to include Roney Elam with this crew as I feel he’s on the field a lot as the hybrid linebacker/safety.  He’s not a true nickel as he plays the run as much as he plays the pass.  His interception late in the game was beautiful.  If he doesn’t make that play there’s a possibility the score of the game is 31-3.  24-10 looks a lot different than 31-3 and Roney Elam is the key to that.

None of these guys are likely to make any level of the all SEC team at the end of the season.  That’s much like the 2012 season where we had three “no name” linebackers contributing in Porter, Stewart, and Jenkins.  I like what I’ve seen out of Johnson, Hines, and Elam so far.  This unit and Elko seem to really be on the same page in executing calls and anticipating plays.

Secondary:

I’ve already talked about the brain fart where Justyn Ross was left alone for the 30-yard score.  That was Clemson’s first touchdown and seemed to set the tone for Clemson to win the game.

Outside of that they did a pretty nice job of containing Clemson’s potent passing attack.  That was the longest pass of the game and remarkable for a Clemson team loaded with a quarterback that can throw deep and receivers that can get deep.  Lawrence was pretty efficient going 24 for 35 but other than that 30-yard pass there was nothing really deep and that was the only passing score.  Lawrence only passed for 268 yards and no Clemson receiver went over 100 yards.  Statistically the secondary did a pretty good job.

I stated earlier I believe Clemson had some big drops that could have made this game look differently.  The reality is they didn’t make those catches so credit must be given to the Aggie secondary.

Individually Blades and Myles Jones seem to be a serious upgrade over last year’s corners.  They still have plenty of room for improvement but they look better than any set of corners we had out there last year.  I have a feeling there’s going to be mental errors on plays so they won’t be flawless but for the most part those two look more serviceable than I originally thought.

At safety I thought Demani Richardson played a great game.  He led the team in tackles which isn’t always ideal for a safety but we didn’t give up any long runs or passes.  That’s the job of the safety to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Hence their name.  Leon O’Neal is immensely talented but I think he needs to play his assignments a little bit better.  He seemed out of position a couple of times and it looked like Myles Jones called him out once which O’Neal didn’t respond to well.  O’Neal is definitely better than anything we had last year.  I think he might be looking for the big hit or interception when he should just focus on his assignments and let the big plays happen because he’s in position.

This unit still has a lot of developing to do.  Right now, I certainly feel like this unit will be much better than what we saw last year.

Special Teams:

Braden Mann:

Braden “only” averaged 44.8 yards on his six punts but I thought he was studly as always.  What this guy does with the ball is amazing.  He hit two over 50 yards including a 60 yarder that just hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity.  This kid is just special so enjoy him in his final season in an Aggie uniform.

He even went out and got his kickoff tee opening the second half.  There’s nothing this guy won’t do.

Everyone Else:

Seth Small nailed his one attempt of 32 yards and Rashaud Paul fair caught the three potential punt returns while letting one get into the end zone.

Not much else to say about this group.  Just their normal steady selves and that’s okay.

 

Looking Forward:

Ironically enough the biggest question mark of this team is the specialty of the head coach.  A productive offense and quarterback.  We played the best team in the country on the road in our second game of the year and couldn’t score enough points to win.  It’s disappointing but not surprising.  This team wasn’t ready for this game from an offensive standpoint.

We all wanted Mond to be better in this game but he wasn’t.  Is it because he really hasn’t progressed or was Clemson just that good?  I think it’s somewhere in between.  Mond will never be Johnny Manziel.  That much is clear.  It doesn’t mean we can’t win a bunch of games with Mond under center IF he progresses to a consistent quarterback.  The clock is ticking on him for sure.

This team is still set up to have a solid season going 8-4 at worst.  We have a MAJOR test in two weeks against Auburn.  They should still be ranked in the Top 8 and it’s a 2:30 game on CBS.  Winning that game will be a major confidence and perception boost.  I REALLY think we can beat them even with how we played on offense against Clemson.  They have one of the best defensive lines in the country but I think we can move the ball on them.  I think our defense can shut them down or at least limit them on points where squeeze out a close game.

Obviously Lamar is next but it should just be a tune-up game for our next test when Auburn comes to town.  Before we panic on the season and especially with Kellen let’s see how we do against Auburn.  There’s a lot of football left to be played this season and we might have played the best team in the country closer than anyone else has or will.

Only time will tell.

Quick Thoughts on the LSU/Texas Game:

That was a heck of a football game.  Joe Burrow was the best player on the field but Sam Ehlinger wasn’t far behind.  I know Aggie fans hate the guy because of the hype he gets but he’s fixed his turnover issues and runs Herman’s offense well.  They didn’t back down from LSU at all.

Those were two REALLY good teams that played on Saturday night.  Don’t be surprised if Texas is in the mix for the College Football Playoff at the end of the season.  If they can get by Oklahoma twice which I think is possible then they’ll be in the mix for a playoff spot.

They play in a crappy conference but they’re a good team that could potentially run the table and benefit.

As for LSU their game is a LONG ways away and a lot can happen but LSU looks to be even better than last season.  LSU appears to have finally found a passing game and that could be really dangerous.  The “easiest” of the Big Four games might have just gotten harder.

Oh well.  Like Jimbo said – “If you don’t bite as a puppy you won’t bite as a dog.”  We better learn to bite over the next 9 games if we have any hope of beating LSU at their place.

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