COLLEGE STATION - It would be hard to ask anyone to defeat the defending national champions. It becomes even harder when having to play on the road. Texas A&M knew that coming into Saturday's matchup.
Not everything was a total loss for the Aggies on Saturday afternoon. The defense excelled, players shined and in the end, at least they covered the spread. But three key plays led to Trevor Lawrence capitalizing under pressure, taking Clemson to a 24-10 victory.
A&M (1-1) will now have time to recuperate before begging the start of SEC play. With a strong showing against Lamar, perhaps the Aggies could climb back up the rankings. A loss will sting, but against a non-conference opponent makes it easier to swallow.
Here are our final thoughts recapping Saturday's action.
Defense shined bright
Although A&M's defense allowed three touchdowns, those numbers shouldn't have Aggie fans worried. Overall, it was a quality showing from Mike Elko's squad, perhaps giving the Tigers their lowest-scoring outing of the year.
A&M collected just two sacks. They also pressured Trevor Lawrence consistently up the middle. Star running back Travis Etienne was limited to only 53 rushing yards and saw little success in the red zone.
Several big plays from Lawrence was the difference-maker. In the second quarter, he'd find Justyn Ross for a 30-yard score thanks to blown coverage. Tee Higgins spilt the defenders and caught a 29-yard pass to put Clemson in the red zone. From there, Lyn-J Dixon would score from three yards out.
Clemson's offense will be one of the most potent squads in the country this year. The Aggies were able to contain them to limited success overall. That could play a considerable favor down the line once SEC action begins.
Kellen Mond needs protection
Against Texas State, Mond looked like he would be a Heisman contender. Against Clemson, he seemed rattled just being compared to a Heisman caliber player. From inconsistent throws to turnovers, Mond never found his footing under center.
Part of that can be on him. The other has to go to the offensive line.
Consistently taking hits behind the line of scrimmage, Mind showed his physical toughness against Clemson's front seven. With coverage looking strong against his receivers, the junior quarterback did what he could to keep drives alive. Overshooting his targets as he was pummeled to the ground, Mond finished going 24 of 42 for 236 yards and scoring a late-game touchdown.
Clemson's defense only finished with a pair of sacks. They were in the backfield over a dozen times. Part of the reason Mond is successful is his growth in the pocket. If the offensive line doesn't give him time to throw, it could be his downfall.
Mond's performance will come with mixed reviews and for good reason. But offensive line play will be a factor early on this year. The SEC is known for strong defense. The x-factor for A&M could be based on o-line play.
Penalties play a factor
Penalties could make or break a team. The fewer free yards given up could lead to the outcome of any outing.
On Saturday, A&M collected nine penalties for 85 yards. And while most of them negatively impacted the offense there were also a couple of major penalties on the defense that led to the lopsided victory.
The Aggies can't afford to push their offense back. Saturday looked like a two-step forward, one-step-back approach. Anything positive on offense would be negated by penalty forcing the team to trend in the opposite direction.
Small penalties indeed weren't the outcome in Clemson. But any chance the Tigers got at a free play, they capitalized. Limiting bad calls will be vital once the season truly begins.
Isiah Spiller era beginning?
Jashaun Corbin left in the third quarter with a leg injury. He would not return. The Aggies turned to true freshman Isiah Spiller to carry the ball. He finished with 24 yards on seven carries.
With Lamar coming to Kyle Field, A&M might wait to play Corbin again. With Spiller getting a chance to improve, he could see a majority of reps next week. One possibility to extend playing time is showing growth in pass protection, an area Corbin has seen mixed results.
Should Corbin miss an extended period, Spiller will likely become the lead back. The freshman finished his first game with 106 yards on four carries against Texas State. Now with SEC play in the mix, the team will need Spiller to have similar outings like that all season.
Although Corbin is only a sophomore, an injury could begin a new era in the Aggie backfield.
Nothing else matters until the 21st
The good news is A&M lost to an out of conference opponent. The bad news is the schedule just became harder.
A&M losing to Clemson will have little to no factor on the team's chance to win the SEC West. Still undefeated in conference play, a big win against Lamar sets the Aggies up with a 2-1 record before Auburn comes to town.
Once the Tigers come to town, it's a full-swing of SEC play. The Razorbacks follow before Alabama sets up for another top 10 matchup. Ole Miss could be 4-2 while Mississippi State could only fall to LSU.
A&M will now face five teams inside the top 10 this season should Auburn defeat Kent State. That would be hard for even teams like Clemson or Alabama to do. In the end, nothing truly matters until the Tigers arrive at Kyle Field.
From there, it's going to be must-win time for the Aggies each week.