COLLEGE STATION, Texas — As the minutes started to dwindle off the clock on Saturday night in College Station, as the final moments of No. 2 Clemson football's eventual 28-26 victory over Texas A&M came to fruition on a muggy night in Texas, more than 104,000 Texas A&M fans united together at Kyle Field, rose to their feet, and began to chant.
It wasn’t one of the school’s traditional cheers rehearsed in Friday night’s Yell Practice, nor was it one that lasted very long. But nevertheless, Aggie Nation wanted to make a point. And it was an important one.
The stadium started shaking.
“Jimbo! Jimbo! Jimbo!” they yelled, praising the Aggies’ new head coach in one of his biggest tests of the season against No. 2 Clemson.
“Jimbo, Jimbo, Jimbo!”
The former Florida State coach came up short against Dabo Swinney for the fifth time in nine games between the two coaches, but if Saturday night was any indication of what this game meant, the world of college football can take away several things:
• Texas A&M is much better than the outside chatter gave the Aggies credit for and they are undeniably headed in the right direction under Fisher.
• The Tigers are not as invincible as many people thought.
• There are still more questions than answers right now at a couple of key positions for Clemson.
The quarterbacks aren’t settled and the secondary needs major work. But a win is a win and when safety K'Von Wallace intercepted Texas A&M's two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the score with less than a minute left, Clemson was happy to take it.
"What a dog fight," Swinney said. "It's a shame somebody has to lose a game like that."
"I'll say this," Fisher said in his opening statement, "it was one heck of a football game. It always is when we play them."
What went right
Senior quarterback Kelly Bryant insisted all week long that this two-quarterback system that Clemson is currently experimenting with does not bother him, and even if it does, Saturday night he proved he could handle it.
Moments after freshman Trevor Lawrence entered the game in the second quarter and immediately threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins, the Internet was ready to crown Lawrence the future of the season and write off Bryant. But Bryant, who has always been disciplined in not allowing himself to worry about things out of his control, stayed calm and was able to pace the Tigers in times of trial. He stepped up to the plate as the veteran leader he is and that's all Clemson could have asked for.
He finished 12 of 17 passing for 205 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score. It was because of his experience that Clemson decided to stay with him in the second half.
"There's just something about Kelly," co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. "His experience, his moxie — those are situations right there when one mistake can cost you a ballgame in this type of environment.
"On the road, Kelly's kind of the road warrior. He was at Louisville last year, he was at Virginia Tech and those situations ... we just decided to go with Kelly. (But) it's going to be a long year and we're going to need Trevor as we go and he knows that."
Clemson also got the type of game out of Higgins that it was hoping for: the sophomore finished the night with three catches for 123 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown.
"I told him after that play, I said, 'Man, you look like Sammy Watkins at Georgia,'" Scott said.
What went wrong
Don't expect Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to be in a good mood any time soon. In fact, he will probably be livid all week. Clemson's defense, which has been pegged all offseason long as one of the nation's best, gave up multiple big plays that certainly had Venables fuming on the sidelines all night long.
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond lit up the Tigers all night long. He had two rushes for more than 12 yards, one 15-yard run and another 23-yard scamper. But it was the passing game where he really torched Clemson. That included two 17-yard passes, a pair of 20-yarders, two 21-yarders, one 23-yarder, one 24-yarder, a 26-yarder, a 28-yarder, a 30-yarder and a whopping 69-yarder.
Clemson's defense has to clean that up moving forward if the Tigers are going to be the College Football Playoff contenders they expect to be.
"We didn't do a great job of containing him," Swinney said of Mond. "He's just a heck of a player and I know Jimbo is excited to be able to have him to build his team around."
Mond came out ready to play against Clemson's buzzed-about defense, but it was the second half when the bright lights came on that he started to really shine. After throwing for 97 yards in the first half, Mond finished the night with 430 yards, three touchdowns and 23 completions on 40 throws. He was a handful all night long and refused to give in with his team's back against the wall.
Clemson heads home next week for a matchup with Georgia Southern at 3:30 p.m. at Death Valley. Given Bryant's play, it seems reasonable to assume he will start again a week from now. The thin Clemson secondary will be a group to keep an eye on again and Swinney wants to see the Tigers clean it up offensively, too.
"Just a couple of real boneheaded missed opportunities, and when you do that, especially on the road, you let a team hang around, you get in a dog fight," he said. "And that's really what happened."