In escape from Texas A&M, Clemson again proves kings of living on the edge
It reared its ugly head — subjectively speaking — on a controversial call in College Station on Saturday night, but a few things are indisputable after No. 2 Clemson‘s 28-26 escape in a wild finish against Texas A&M.
It’s indisputable the Tigers are poised to contend for another College Football Playoff berth, and it’s indisputable that Dabo Swinney has built a program that continues to thrive in exactly these situations.
The Tigers have now won an FBS-best 23 of their 27 one-possession games over the past eight seasons, including 10 of 12 in the last three seasons … and three of those since 2011 have come with Swinney facing off against Jimbo Fisher.
With the latter leaving Florida State for Texas A&M, the coaches delivered another one of those narrow margins of victory in their first clash with Swinney in his new digs.
Up 28-13 heading into the fourth quarter, the Aggies owned the final 15 minutes,. Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards, the most any quarterback has tagged the Tigers for since another Fisher protege, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, had 444 against Clemson on Oct. 20, 2013.
But the Tigers defense did just enough, including getting a touchback with 2:09 to play as K’Von Wallace caused Quartney Davis to fumble the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. The play went to replay, and without indisputable video evidence, Clemson was awarded the ball.
After Mond hit Kendrick Rogers for a 14-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left to cut the Tigers’ lead to two, it was Wallace that intercepted the ensuing two-point conversion pass as Clemson held on.
It was a scare for a team that has had its share of them. Last season, Clemson dodged Auburn 14-6, and en route to the national championship in 2016, the Tigers went into survival mode vs. Auburn, Troy, Louisville, NC State and Florida State, all before the calendar hit November.
With who’s at QB for the Tigers a paramount question and a testament to Swinney’s embarrassment of riches — Kelly Bryant, by the way, was 12 of 17 for 205 yards and a score and ran for another 54 yards and a TD, while freshman wunderkind Trevor Lawrence was 5 of 9 for 93 yards and a TD that came on his first attempt — is the biggest point of interest on defense?
With its vaunted defensive led by All-Americans Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, no one’s questioning the talent or credentials of this group. But it was burned for 501 yards. That’s the most the Tigers have yielded since another former Heisman winner, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, paved the way for 568 on Oct. 1, 2016.
Fisher appears to be building something at Texas A&M and Saturday night just might have been Mond’s national coming out party. We could look back at this game months from now and see it through that exact prism — or was it indicative of concerns with this Tigers defense?
They’ve been able to reload and not miss a beat year after year behind coordinator Brent Venables, and with so many household names back, why would we expect this season to be letdown?
But then again, it feels like we’ve executed this exact exercise time and time again over these past few years. We’ve doubted Clemson though those close calls, four that came in reaching the National Championship Game in 2015, five a year later when they hoisted the title and two more in reaching the playoff again last winter.
We doubt. They live on the edge. Rinse and repeat. It’s indisputable, and the end results undeniable.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.