For three and a half quarters in last year’s win over Texas A&M, Clemson controlled the football game and it controlled quarterback Kellen Mond. But, as Dabo Swinney told it on Tuesday, “we lost our mind” in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, Mond was anything but dangerous against the Tigers. Brent Venables’ scheme kept him in check as the Aggies quarterback completed just 7 of 17 passes for 97 yards and rushed for just 19 more.
Clemson led 14-3 at halftime.
The Tigers extended their lead to 15 points, 28-13, by the end of the third quarter and appeared to be in complete control of the game. Then the wheels came off in the secondary.
“Sometimes you bust, and you turn a guy loose, and they don’t find him. But this guy, he found them,” Swinney said.
In the fourth quarter, Mond found his open receivers a lot. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final stanza, while bringing A&M within two points of tying the game.
“They made some competitive plays, too, but there were some when we just did not have anybody in the zip code,” Swinney said. “We just learned details and we were really young. This time last year was different on the backend for us.
“We felt great about our corners, but we were a little bit inexperienced at safety. So, the whole back seven, we like the guys we got. We think we are very experienced there. We think that is the strength for us. So, structurally, we need to be better.”
The crux of the matter is top-ranked Clemson needs to make plays this year to avoid a repeat of last year’s fourth quarter. The Tigers dropped four potential interceptions in last year’s contest, including three by safety K’Von Wallace.
“We got our hands on like four balls that we did not catch,” Swinney said. “One of them in the end zone that all of sudden became a touchdown. It is a pick and now it is a touchdown. Those are game-changing type plays. When you do get your chance to get your hands on the ball, we have to finish those.”
Mond finished the second half against Clemson with 333 yards and 3 touchdowns, while completing 16 of 23 passes. For one of the few times last year, the Tigers’ defense did not finish the job and close out their opponent in the second half.
The task for the Tigers on Saturday when they host No. 12 Texas A&M at Death Valley will be to close out the game, and not let Mond beat them with his arm or his legs.
“They’re going to make some plays,” Swinney said. “They are going to get off the bus and throw the ball downfield, so our corners are going to have to win some matchups. But we have to be positioned better and that is probably the biggest thing, just being detailed for four quarters.”
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