No. 12 Texas A&M faced many challenges going into Death Valley on Saturday, but none were as detrimental as the adversity the Aggies created for themselves throughout the game.
The Aggies appeared discombobulated against No. 1 Clemson as they struggled in all areas of their game.
A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said the game came down to Clemson making necessary plays when the Aggies were unable to do the same.
“[They] made critical plays when they had to make critical plays,” Fisher told 12thman.com. “I thought we played hard, [but] I didn't think we played particularly well at times. We had opportunities to make plays, but you have to make critical plays at critical moments.”
Nine penalties throughout the game resulted in a loss of 85 yards for the Aggies, with four of those penalties coming from false starts. The penalty bug bit early, as freshman tight end Jalen Wydermeyer had a false start on the third play of the game.
Junior defensive tackle Justin Madubuike earned a roughing the passer penalty just before the end of the first half, which the Tigers followed up with a touchdown a few plays later.
"It's frustrating because that's what Coach Fisher harps on is not beating ourselves and that's one thing we did today,” junior linebacker Buddy Johnson told 12thman.com. “We had a lot of penalties and we've got to work on that. We can't have that if we want to win championships."
A&M junior quarterback Kellen Mond was 24-of-42 passing for 236 yards. He struggled mightily in the first half, only throwing for 51 yards, while his second half total more than tripled to 185.
“At times you can come in over confident and excited about the game,” Mond told 12thman.com. “Instead of trying to make the plays, you have to let the plays come to you.”
Mond said he takes responsibility for his lackluster performance in the loss, which included a red zone interception and a momentum-killing fumble at midfield.
“It was a huge play,” Mond told 12thman.com. “Any turnover is critical. We felt like we were going to have a good drive going there.”
Where Mond’s passing improved in the second half, the offense’s rushing took a hard hit, dropping from 41 yards in the first half to 12 in the second.
“I didn’t think [Mond] was in sync early,” Fisher told 12thman.com. “When he was in sync, we were dropping the ball or as an offense we were out of sync.”
Fisher said the Aggies had several opportunities to create some momentum, but they ultimately couldn’t capitalize on them.
“We came out [after halftime] and played well defensively and offensively,” Fisher told 12thman.com. “We got a couple first downs and then just didn’t get it going.”
The Aggies started to find a groove in the second half, but at that point, it was too late, Mond said.
“It felt like we started to [find momentum] once we got in the second half, but [with] a team like [Clemson], you can't really wait that long,” Mond told 12thman.com. “We have to come out better and come out a lot earlier against a team like this.”
It was that inability to garner any momentum that ultimately kept A&M out of the game, Fisher said.
“In this game of college football, and in any sport, momentum is huge,” Fisher told 12thman.com. “When you keep moving the ball, you have momentum and good things happen. [Clemson] had more momentum plays [than we did].”