During the summer, members of the Clemson coaching staff traveled to Utah to learn some new schemes in the spread offense.
And after watching the Utes amass 582 yards of total offense against Texas A&M in the first game of the season, the Tigers’ staff had to feel pretty good about their chances to do the same against the Aggies.
The results, however, were worlds apart as the Tigers struggled in all phases of the game, highlighted by four turnovers, as Texas A&M easily won 27-6 Saturday night in front of 71,565 fans at Kyle Field.
The main difference between Utah’s game and Clemson’s was the fact that the Utes didn’t commit a single turnover against Texas A&M. The Tigers (1-2 overall, 1-1 ACC), on the other hand, committed four, all of which came from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
It was one of the worst performances of his career as he threw three interceptions and fumbled once.
“Four by myself,” Whitehurst said. “That was definitely huge.”
Whitehurst now has seven interceptions in three games this season and he has thrown at least one pick in eight consecutive games. It is also the fourth time in the last six games he has thrown two interceptions.
Whitehurst finished Saturday night’s game 20-of-36 passing for 192 yards.
“Offensively, we just shot ourselves in the foot,” Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. “You can’t turn the ball over and win any games, against Texas A&M or anyone else.”
Clemson tallied less than half of the offensive yardage that Utah did against the Aggies by getting just 250.
The Tigers also were also an anemic 2-of-11 in third-down conversions.
“We didn’t do anything,” Whitehurst said. “We just didn’t show up. Offensively, we haven’t shown up yet. We never had momentum.”
But the offense was only half of Clemson’s problem.
The Clemson defense was pounded for 324 yards rushing on 53 carries. That’s the highest amount of rushing yards for the Aggies since gaining 336 against North Texas in 1997. And the last time they had more rushing yards at Kyle Field was in 1996, when they gained 425 against Louisiana Tech.
Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal gave the Tigers fits all game as he completed 14-of-26 passes for 178 yards, while also rushing for another 129 yards on 17 carries.
He’s the first Aggies quarterback to pass and run for more than 100 yards in a game since Bucky Richardson did it in 1991.
“I have a lot of confidence in Reggie and a lot of confidence he won’t throw the ball into coverage very many times and he puts us in the right place,” Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said. “I think early in the game he was fired up and excited and he settled down and got into his groove and when he gets into that, he makes it easier to make decisions on offense because you have trust in him to make the right decision on plays and tonight there was some break downs and he pulled them back down and did a great job of turning what could have been a loss into a positive.”
And when it wasn’t McNeal blistering the Clemson defense, Aggies tailback Lewis Courtney was. He ran 28 times for 165 yards.
“With me and Courtney back there, you can’t just key on one of us,” McNeal said. “Teams try to account for one or the other and end up losing the other.”
The Clemson defense has now allowed three 100-yard rushers and three 100-yard receivers.
Texas A&M (2-1, 0-0 Big 12) jumped to a quick 14-0 lead following two Lewis touchdown runs in the second quarter, the second of which went untouched for 29 yards.
Clemson answered with it’s only scoring drive of the game as Whitehurst hit tight end Ben Hall with a 15-yard touchdown pass. However, Stephen Furr missed the extra point and the Aggies held a 14-6 lead with 5:26 left before the half.
Texas A&M booted a 32-yard field goal with 2:13 left in the second quarter to increase its lead to 17-6.
The running game for the Aggies continued to be in full gear as they scored another touchdown in the third quarter on a 3-yard run by Jason Carter to make it 24-6 with 9:55 remaining.
It was the cap to a 99-yard drive.
Texas A&M added its final score with another field goal midway through the fourth quarter to complete the game’s scoring.
Reggie Merriweather led the Tigers in rushing with eight carries for 53 yards, while wide receiver Kelvin Grant had eight catches for 63 yards.
Things don’t get any easier for Clemson as it travels to Tallahassee, Fla., next week to take on Florida State, before heading to Virginia to complete its three game road trip.
“First and foremost, if I can play to the best of my ability this stuff doesn’t happen,” Whitehurst said. “We just had guys not show up and I’m probably number one on that list.”