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Kellen Mond’s comeback effort falls short as No. 2 Clemson holds off Texas A&M

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A furious Texas A&M comeback effort led by Kellen Mond fell just short, as No. 2 Clemson raced to an early lead and held on for a 28-26 win in College Station.

The Aggies moved the ball consistently throughout the night but saw four drives of 30-plus yards end in some form of disaster. A&M opened the game by moving 66 yards before a missed Daniel LaCamera field goal, and also saw a 30-yard march end in a missed field goal.

Then, with the Aggies trailing 14-6 midway through the third quarter, Mond converted a 3rd-and-11 at the Clemson 44 by rushing 23 yards, setting up a 1st-and-10 at the 21. But Mond cramped up after the run, forcing backup Nick Starkel into the game. Clelin Ferrell immediately sacked Starkel, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Clemson’s Justin Foster.

Two plays later, Clemson (2-0) quarterback Kelly Bryant hit Tee Higgins for a 50-yard completing, setting up a touchdown to give Clemson a 21-6 lead.

After that, Mond came alive. He found Camron Buckley for a 69-yard completion, setting up a 9-yard scoring strike to Kendrick Rodgers to pull the Aggies (1-1) within 21-13 at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.

Clemson answered that score, keyed by a 40-yard strike from Bryant to Hunter Renfrow, moving 75 yards in eight plays to set up Travis Etienne‘s 1-yard plunge, giving Clemson a 28-13 lead with a minute remaining in the third quarter.

But Mond immediately led the Aggies back, needing only a handful of snaps to travel 75 yards. Mond hit Quartney Davis for a 14-yard touchdown grab, the first catch of any kind of his career, to bring the Aggies within 28-20 with 14:07 still to play.

The teams traded punts through the next three possessions until A&M moved in position to potentially tie the game, but Davis fumbled the ball through the end zone on a play that was ruled a fumble on the field and was impossible to overturn upon review.

That fumble gave Clemson the ball at its own 20 with 2:09 remaining, but the Tigers could not achieve a game-clinching first down, and Will Spiers‘s 22-yard punt handed the Aggies the ball at the Clemson 49 with 1:12 still to play.

Mond needed only 26 seconds to score, hitting Rodgers for a 10-yard gain, accepting a pass interference penalty on Clemson and then finding Rodgers again, this time for a 24-yard score.

Needing a two-point conversion to push the game into overtime, Mond was intercepted in the end zone.

Hunter Renfrow recovered the onside kick to clinch the win for Clemson. The win moves Clemson to 23-4 in one-score games in its last 27 such games.

In a losing effort, Mond was the star of the night, hitting 23-of-40 passes for 430 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions while also leading the Aggies’ ground efforts with 10 carries for 33 yards. Trayveon Williams rushed 17 times for 31 yards.

Clemson also failed to run the ball consistently, mustering 115 yards on 32 carries. Bryant was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 54 yards on 15 carries. Instead, Clemson (2-0) was carried by a handful of big plays in the passing game.

Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, Bryant hit Amari Rodgers for a 64-yard gain, turning a 3rd-and-15 into a 1st-and-10 at the A&M 16. Bryant scored on a 1-yard dash four plays later to give Clemson a lead it would not relinquish through the first half.

After forcing an A&M punt, Clemson put freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the game, and the freshman immediately made the absolute most of his opportunity, finding Higgins for a snatch-and-dash 64-yard score.

Bryant got the bulk of the duties for Clemson, playing the entire second half and completing 12-of-17 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. Lawrence was 5-of-9 for 93 yards and a score. Etienne led all Clemson running backs with eight carries for 44 yards and a touchdown.

The win pushed Dabo Swinney to a four-game winning streak in his personal rivalry with Jimbo Fisher. Swinney now owns the ledger, 6-5. The Aggies and Tigers will complete their home-and-home in Clemson in Week 2 of next season.

Big plays propel Clemson to halftime lead at Texas A&M

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At the 3:15 mark of the first quarter, Clemson appeared to be in trouble. Though the score was just 3-0 in favor of Texas A&M, the Aggies were pushing Clemson’s vaunted defense around and the Tigers’ offense had accomplished precisely zero. Clemson’s first drive lost six yards before a punt, and its second possession appeared headed to the exact same end. Facing a 3rd and 15 from its own 20, it appeared Dabo Swinney may be forced to make his first tough decision of this young season, between veteran quarterback Kelly Bryant and his talented true freshman Trevor Lawrence.

And then Bryant threw to Amari Rodgers.

Rodgers snagged the ball and dashed for a 64-yard gain, turning a 3rd-and-15 into a 1st-and-10 at the A&M 16. Bryant scored on a 1-yard dash four plays later to give Clemson a lead it would not relinquish through the first half.

After forcing an A&M punt, Clemson put Lawrence in the game, and the freshman immediately made the absolute most of his opportunity, finding Tee Higgins for a snatch-and-dash 64-yard score. (In fairness, the catch and run were better than the throw).

Nevertheless, Clemson had a 14-3 lead at the 14:13 mark of the second quarter, which would hold through the remainder of the frame.

Outside of those two plays, Texas A&M has largely held its own with the Tigers. The Aggies put together an 11-play, 66-yard drive, an 8-play, 32-yard drive and an 8-play, 30-yard drive, but managed just three points after all three marches stalled, which was compounded when Aggies kicker Daniel LaCamera missed his first try and had his third blocked.

Clemson also forced Texas A&M into three three-and-outs, plus another drive that went four yards in five plays.

Texas A&M caught a break when a Clemson drive that moved 53 yards after the blocked LaCamera field goal ended when a 4th-and-goal try from the 1 never made it out of the backfield, as the under center snap sputtered through Bryant’s legs, forcing Adam Choice to hop on the ball rather than concede a turnover.

Clemson will receive to open the second half.

Alabama tops preseason Super 16 poll from FWAA and National Football Foundation

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Another day, another hour, and another top spot in a preseason poll for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama was the most popular pick for the top spot in the preseason Super 16 Poll from the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. Alabama received 36 first-place votes to stay comfortably ahead of No. 2 Clemson. The Tigers received 14 first-place votes and Georgia and Michigan State each picked up one first-place vote.

The voters certainly are leaning toward Wisconsin as the top Big Ten team. The Badgers ranked fourth overall, two spots ahead of Ohio State. If the playoff were determined by this preseason poll, Alabama would play Wisconsin and Clemson would face Georgia. Washington would be the first team out. The Huskies coming in at No. 5 likely means a good number of voters believe Washington will open the season with a win against Auburn in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game as well, and that would certainly create a playoff-or-bust season for Washington out of the gates.

One team that has received some good offseason buzz that failed to crack the Super 16 was West Virginia. A trendy pick in the Big 12 for some, the Mountaineers were the first team out of this particular preseason poll.

No Group of Five programs made the Super 16 cut, although UCF, Boise State, and San Diego State all received at least one point in the voting.

Here is how the preseason Super 16 poll breaks down:

  1. Alabama (36 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson (14)
  3. Georgia
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Washington
  6. Ohio State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Miami
  9. Auburn
  10. Penn State
  11. Michigan State (1)
  12. Notre Dame
  13. Michigan
  14. Stanford
  15. USC
  16. TCU

In the interest of full disclosure, three College Football Talk contributors are voting members in the Super 16 Poll; myself, Bryan Fischer and Zach Barnett). The poll is made up of members of the FWAA and College Football Hall of Famers with an emphasis on geographic balance. New polls will be updated every Monday this season, with the exception of the post-Week 1 poll, which will be released on Tuesday, September 4.

Auto dealer deletes photo of Clemson WR Tee Higgins with fancy car

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There may have been some slight panic attacks for the Clemson football program this weekend after an auto dealer posted an image of wide receiver Tee Higgins in front of a top-of-the-line sports car. Fortunately for Clemson, there may be no real need for the NCAA to come open an investigation after the auto dealer deleted the image from its Facebook page rather quickly.

The photo of Higgins came from True Auto Mart in Piedmont, South Carolina. With Higgins posing in front of a McLaren Spider valued at about $200,000, the message from the dealer thanked Higgins for coming to purchase a vehicle at the dealer. Naturally, with the message attached to a photo of a prominent wide receiver from a college football program, it was easy for many to come to a quick conclusion that Higgins bought the car in the photo.

The dealership went on the record to say Higgins did not purchase the car he posed with in the photo, although he did take a ride in it.

“Mr. Higgins didn’t purchase the car in the picture,” the dealer later clarified, according to a report from FitsNews. “However he did love the McLaren and went for a ride in it. It gave him a lot of inspiration to be even better so he can get one with his signing bonus when he gets drafted to the NFL.”

Higgins also requested the image be taken down from the dealer’s Facebook page. Per FitsNews;

“We took the picture down at the request of Mr. Higgins,” another subsequent post from the dealership added. “We did not want to cause any problems for him even though there has been no wrong doing from him or us. We just wanted to post a picture with him in front of a nice car. We are working on getting him in one of our cars currently. We never said he bought the car he was standing in front of. Our other pictures we have of customers states the car they bought. This picture never stated what car he bought if any. People are always quick to judge and come to a false conclusion. It is a shame that a lot of people just want ridicule instead of saying something nice.”

A quick scan of the dealer’s Facebook page shows a string of photos of customers posing in front of their new purchases. The image with Higgins was clearly a publicity stunt for the dealer with no regard for any potential NCAA issues that may arise.

Helmet sticker to SB Nation.

RB C.J. Fuller one of two transferring from Clemson

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Lost amidst some high-profile additions on National Signing Day was a bit of additional attrition for Clemson.

Dabo Swinney confirmed Wednesday that redshirt sophomore tight end Shadell Bell and redshirt junior running back C.J. Fuller have both decided to transfer from the Tigers. Per the head coach, both players will remain in classes at the university until they graduate this spring.  As grad transfers, the players would be eligible to compete immediately with another FBS program.

The fact that Clemson’s two leading rushers from 2017 — freshman Travis Etienne (766 yards) and junior Tavien Feaster (669) — return in 2018 likely led Fuller to decide to spend his final season elsewhere.

Last season, Fuller, who began the year as the starter, was fifth on the Tigers with a career-high 217 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll finish the Tigers portion of his playing career with 599 yards and four touchdowns on 147 carries, as well as 18 receptions for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

One of those touchdown catches came in the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Ohio State in 2016.

Bell, meanwhile, leaves with one reception for eight yards, numbers he posted in 2017.

Fuller and Bell are at least the fifth and sixth Tigers to leave the program this offseason. Two quarterbacks, Zerrick Cooper (HERE) and Tucker Israel (HERE), and a pair of defensive linemen, Sterling Johnson (HERE) and Jabril Robinson (HERE), have previously been confirmed as having left Swinney’s program.