COLLEGE STATION –Ainias Smith provided an early spark for Texas A&M.
Isaiah Spiller and the defense generated the second-half energy that the No. 10 Aggies desperately needed to escape their season opener with a 17-12 win over Vanderbilt.
“A victory is a victory,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said, “but all three phases [of the game] didn’t play how I thought we could or how we can.”
In a day filled with upsets and near-upsets from Norman to Baton Rouge, A&M survived despite three lost fumbles — two by senior quarterback Kellen Mond — and also misfired on a fourth-down handoff in the fourth quarter that kept giving the Commodores life.
“We got to protect the football,” Fisher said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Mond finished with 17 of 28 for 189 yards and one touchdown while trying to build chemistry with a group of young receivers.
“He can play much better,” Fisher said, noting that the four-year starter had looked much better in preseason camp.
Spiller provided the offensive boost A&M needed, rushing for 117 yards on eight carries with all but five yards coming in the second half. It was the fifth career 100-yard rushing game for the sophomore, who had runs for 57, 30 and 24 yards.
The A&M defense did the rest, with two key second-half interceptions in the red zone by Demani Richardson and Leon O’Neal. Micheal Clemens sacked Vanderbilt freshman quarterback Ken Seals for an 8-yard loss on third down with A&M clinging to a five-point lead late.
“As a defensive line we wanted to show what we were doing in practice,” Clemens said.
Vanderbilt was forced to punt and A&M killed the clock, with the help of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason.
Senior linebackers Aaron Hansford and Buddy Johnson led the A&M defense