Jimbo Fisher is still finding his way in the big, bad SEC, but he’s still got this ACC thing figure out. His 19th-ranked Aggies scored the final 45 points to race past NC State 52-13 in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville on Monday night.
Texas A&M opened the game with a 2-play, 71-yard drive that was all Kellen Mond. Texas A&M’s first snap was a 9-yard pass from Mond to Kendrick Rogers, and its second a 62-yard Mond touchdown run.
NC State (9-4) responded with a 13-0 run, aided greatly by a Mond interception inside A&M territory. His tip passed landed in the arms of Wolfpack defensive lineman Eurndraus Bryant at the Aggies’ 27-yard line, setting up a 9-yard Ryan Finley pass to CJ Riley. Two Christopher Dunn field goals, from 43 and 49 yards, put NC State up front 13-7 at the 10:45 mark of the second quarter, but Texas A&M seized the lead back with a run of its own.
A 28-yard strike to tight end Jace Sternberger and a 30-yard rush by Trayveon Williams put the ball at the NC State 2, leading to Williams’ 2-yard plunge to put the Aggies back in front.
After an NC State three-and-out, Texas A&M went 72 yards in 11 plays, closing on a third-and-goal 6-yard strike to Rogers with 32 seconds left in the first half. Mond led all players in passing and rushing, connecting on 13-of-23 passes for 142 yards with a touchdown and a pick while rushing for 82 yards and another score on four carries.
Finley tried to serve up more points to the Aggies by tossing a late interception, but Seth Small‘s 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first half sailed wide right.
That theme continued in the second half, when Finley was picked by A&M linebacker Tyrel Dodson, who took the ball 78 yards for a touchdown.
Williams put the game away for good by posting consecutive touchdown runs on A&M’s next two possessions, a 17-yarder and then a 93-yard that put the Aggies up 42-13 at the 13:56 mark of the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 19 carries for 236 yards and three touchdowns.
After a 35-yard Small field goal, the Aggies closed the game with a rushing touchdown by 12th man Cullen Gillaspia with 22 seconds left in the game.
Texas A&M out-rushed NC State 401-134, while Finley finished his college career hitting 19 of 32 passes for just 139 yards with a touchdown and two picks.
Fisher’s 9-4 debut matches the second-best showing by Texas A&M in seven seasons of SEC membership. The Gator Bowl’s Dec. 31 kickoff was perhaps fitting for the maroon and white, as they close 2018 with a sign that 2019 will become the Year of Jimbo.