Clemson's domination of Texas A&M begs one question: Can anyone stand up to the Tigers?
No. 1 Clemson thoroughly beat No. 12 Texas A&M, holding the Aggies without a TD until the final seconds
CLEMSON, S.C. – During warm-ups Saturday on the surface of the sun known as Memorial Stadium, Clemson's wide receivers were busy catching balls thrown slightly behind them by assistant coaches. It's sort of a reaction drill, a measure of how some of the nation's best wideouts react under stress.
Given the run of success No. 1 Clemson is on, it almost seems the Tigers are now trying to create obstacles for themselves.
This slice of pregame would mean little without a bit of perspective. Late in the first half of a still-close game against No. 12 Texas A&M, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence apparently thought nothing of throwing into double coverage for 29 yards down to the Aggies' 2-yard line.
But that wasn't the best part … if you believe the Tigers can run the table again.
Not only did 6-foot-4 Tee Higgins snag Lawrence's pass, he contorted his body to do it. Yes, the ball was thrown behind him.
There was a method to that warm-up madness.
"Even a long time ago when I coached receivers we would work on that back shoulder ball," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "You're always trying to prepare these guys because you never know where the ball is going to be. Once it gets inside your catch radius, the expectation is you come down with the ball.
"It's not new to football."
No, it's not. Back-shoulder fades are all the rage the past few years. But that piece of preparation shows how this Clemson championship run goes deep in the weeds with details.
Clemson's dominance is not new to football, either. Two plays after that catch, the Tigers scored, increasing their lead to 17-3 lead. With this version of Brent Venables' defense, they were on their way to a 24-10 finish -- a final score that only bothered Clemson bettors and TAMU fans.
The Clemson message? Good job, nice effort Aggies. Now let us get on our way with a school-record 17th consecutive win.
Of course, the Tigers are too humble to say it out loud.
"We're not a polished product," Venables said of his defense that held a second straight opponent to two touchdowns or less. "We'll go out and there, and we'll want to throw up at times watching tape."
After Saturday's win, is there any hope for the ACC and the rest of college football?
"The grind is real, and it only gets harder," Venables added.
Last year in this game, Lawrence wasn't trusted enough to close out a two-point win in College Station, Texas. Kelly Bryant -- remember him? -- played the last six series.
A couple of weeks later, Lawrence was starting, Bryant was transferring, and well, here we are -- 17 straight wins for Clemson. Texas A&M has been one of the toughest challengers in that stretch.
"Last year kind of left some doubt," Lawrence said of the 28-26 win in 2018. "We wanted to leave no doubt this year."
"This year, we had a whole season worth of film," Clemson safety Tanner Muse said of Texas A&M. "It kind of told the world, 'It is what it is. We know what we have.'"
As for resistance from the opponent, not much of it came from the Aggies. At least not offensively. Texas A&M was supposed to provide some sort of impedance. But the team that has come closest to beating Clemson in the last season and a half simply fell in line with everyone else.
What Clemson has for sure is Lawrence, who still hasn't reached his potential. That hose dangling off his right shoulder completed 24 of 35 for 268 yards and a spectacular touchdown to Justyn Ross in the first half. Flushed from the pocket, Lawrence slid to his left and floated a pass across his body to Ross, who had slipped behind the defense.
Other quarterbacks couldn't physically attempt the throw. Lawrence turned it into a touchdown.
On the Higgins throw, Lawrence fit the ball in a window with two defenders crashing down on the junior who led the Tigers in receiving last year. It helped that Higgins' catch radius Elliott was referring to seems to stretch across campus.
"It definitely takes trust being able to throw it up in that situation," co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said.
"We'd love for it to draw up the way that we have it called. Sometimes they have it covered. When you got a guy like Tee, you throw it up and give him a chance. He rewarded Trevor there with a big catch."
There's that and a defense that is younger than last year's stifling veteran unit … but looks just as fast.
Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards last year against the Tigers. On Saturday, he was limited to 236 yards, getting sacked twice and limping off after two second-half series with cramps.
Mond appeared in the postgame media scrum with a bloody scratch on his right cheek.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney nearly didn't make it that far to the postgame.
"He got kind of launched up into the ceiling [in a locker room celebration]," Muse said. "He's super excited. I think he was scared more than anything -- of hitting his head on the ceiling."
And it's only Week 2 in defense of a championship.
Texas A&M was a worthy opponent in the game notes. It broke Clemson's 11-game streak of winning its games by at least 20 points. In 16 consecutive games, the Tigers had scored at least 27.
The Aggies' biggest win was over grumbling oddmakers. TAMU's only touchdown in the final seconds made it a backdoor cover, 24-10. Clemson closed as 16-point favorites.
With six minutes left in the third quarter, at least for the Aggies, it was a measure of who wanted to be there at that point. It was about 8,000 degrees in Death Valley on a cloudless day. They were down three touchdowns.
"Our guys, I thought we played hard," Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I don't think we played particularly well."
That seems to be a habit with Clemson's opponents.
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