CLEMSON — This was supposed to be Clemson's toughest challenge of the regular season, and for most of the first half Saturday, Texas A&M was within striking distance.
But then the Tigers did what they've done for the past 12 months. They clamped down on defense. They moved the chains on offense. The Aggies scored first, on a field goal in the second quarter, but it was all Clemson from there.
The No. 1 Tigers are simply on another level than most college football teams in the nation, and that was apparent by the end of their 24-10 win over No. 12 Texas A&M at Death Valley.
Clemson offensive co-coordinator Jeff Scott said he expects the Aggies to turn a corner, though.
"This will be one of those games we'll look back on after they go out and have the year I think they're going to have," Scott said. "We'll look back at this game in six or seven weeks and go, 'Hey, that was a really big-time win there early in the year.'"
Perhaps Scott is right, and the future will be kind to Texas A&M. Clemson was not, however, and it started with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
After a shaky performance in last week's opener against Georgia Tech, Lawrence on Saturday looked like himself. He finished 24 for 35 for 268 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
Lawrence found Justyn Ross seven times for 94 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown catch, and Tee Higgins four times for 70 yards. Even Amari Rodgers, the wide receiver who suffered a torn ACL in the offseason, saw the field and caught two passes.
"It's a huge shot in the arm for us to get a guy like Amari Rodgers back," coach Dabo Swinney said. "He brings a lot to our team."
Clemson's defense was stout. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M's free-wheeling junior quarterback, was rendered inefficient and finished 24 for 42 for 236 yards and one interception, though most of his production came in the fourth quarter — he entered the final period having thrown for just 97 yards.
Mond found tight end Jalen Wydermyer for a two-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining in regulation, in effect halting Clemson's streak of consecutive victories by 20 or more points at 11.
What went right
Mond carved up the Tigers' secondary in last season's matchup, throwing for 430 yards and three touchdowns in Clemson's 28-26 win. Not this time. Clemson sacked Mond on two occasions and totaled six pass breakups, turning the billed quarterback duel into a one-sided affair.
Clemson safety K'Von Wallace recorded a game-high nine tackles and a sack, while safety Tanner Muse had three tackles and a fourth-quarter interception.
What went wrong
Running back Travis Etienne took a step back from last week, when he rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Etienne was bound to experience some sort of dip in production after that performance.
The junior didn't run the ball poorly Saturday, but he wasn't great. He finished with just 53 yards on 16 carries. He did add four catches for 52 yards.
Sophomore Lyn-J Dixon, meanwhile, gained 79 yards on 11 carries and rushed for a touchdown for the second week in a row.
Clemson needed a score. Lawrence had been good but not great for most of the first half. Then, well after releasing the ball, Lawrence was clobbered by Aggies defensive linemen Justin Madubuike. A flag was thrown, but Lawrence was not content with Madubuike just getting called for roughing the passer.
Lawrence popped up and got in the junior's face before being pushed away by a referee. The sophomore quarterback waved his arms to hype up the crowd, then found Higgins for a 29-yard gain. One play later, Lawrence was standing up in the end zone, having bulldozed in for the touchdown.
Clemson took a 17-3 lead into halftime and never looked back.
The Tigers hit the road for the first time this season next week to challenge Syracuse. The No. 21 Orange were shellacked by Maryland 63-20 on Saturday. The defeat takes some juice out of what would've been a big ACC Atlantic Division matchup.