If you go back and think about college football in 2018, the matchup with Clemson and Texas A&M was one of the best of the bunch over the course of the entire season. The Tigers were on the verge of taking a commanding 21-3 lead when Kelly Bryant fumbled the ball on a 4th and Goal from the 1 late in the second quarter. With 5 minutes left in the 3rd however, the Tigers finally took their commanding lead 21-6 when Bryant hit Diondre Overton for an 8 yd TD pass.
The Aggies responded with a 2 play 76 yard TD drive to cut the lead to 21-13 with just over 4 minutes to play. That’s when Aggies QB Kellen Mond caught fire, as it seemed he could do no wrong. Even deflected passes that should have been picked off by Clemson somehow found their way into a Texas A&M receivers hands, one in the end zone for a TD late. It took the Tigers picking Mond off on a 2 point conversion with under a minute to play to escape College Station with a win.
If the fans in attendance this weekend get even close to that kind of a competitive game, they will have gotten their monies worth. The oddsmakers however, do not see it playing out that way. The top ranked Tigers come into this one against the #11 Aggies as 17.5 point favorites. There are a lot of analysts out there that are not buying it though, as most are picking A&M to cover, with some calling for the upset outright. That is despite the fact the Tigers have won 11 straight games by 20 points or more.
Make no mistake, this Aggie team without question has the talent, the coaching, and the confidence to come in and pull off the upset. Jimbo Fisher’s offenses have had some success against Brent Venables in the past, even in some of the losses. We have seen Jimbo’s teams have success throwing it and running it at one time or another. Like him or hate him, he is an elite level offensive mind.
This Texas A&M team will likely use a two back system when it comes to trying to run the ball. Jashaun Corbin is clearly the number one guy, but they also have a true freshman by the name of Isaiah Spiller they can bring in to spell him. He is a little bigger than Corbin is, and can run it inside the tackles as well as outside on the perimeter. Tiger fans will get a look at just how good this new look front four is going to be against the run, and how well that interior holds up with less depth than in recent seasons.
We all remember how Kellen Mond diced up the Tiger D last year, mostly in the second half, to the tune of 430 yards. He has big targets on the outside to throw too. 6’4 Kendrick Rogers, who caught 7 passes for 120 yards last season against Clemson is back. They also have Quartney Davis and Jhamon Austin, both 6’2 and over 200 lbs. This is going to be a huge challenge for the Clemson back end, especially if Mond has time to sit in the pocket and throw.
It will be important for the Tigers front seven to get pressure on Mond, while at the same time keeping him contained and not letting him get free and start picking up chunks on the ground. That will entail the ends being better at setting the edge than they were in the opener and for Chad Smith and James Skalski to be a little more sound with their tackling. The Aggies do have two new offensive linemen, including a new center. Obviously this Tiger D wants to generate pressure with its front four, but if for some reason that is not happening, expect Brent Venables to start dialing up the blitzes to try and keep pressure on Mond.
In its opener last week against Georgia Tech, the Tigers took advantage of the Jackets playing to not get beat deep and let Travis Etienne do his thing. The Clemson offensive line basically imposed their will and the backs had plenty of rooming room between the tackles. The Aggies front four will present much more of a challenge, and rushing yards could be much tougher to come by. If the Tigers are able to get the ground game going, and Etienne and Lyn J Dixon are able to keep the chains moving, this could be a long night for the Aggies. The last thing they want to see is a balanced attack from Clemson.
We didn’t see much from the passing game against the Yellow Jackets, as the offense was happy to take what the defense was giving them and there was very little effort made to attack the field vertically. That will not be the case in this one. The Aggies have very little experience and very little depth at LB. Look for the Tigers to try and expose that by attacking the middle of the field, and then meticulously choosing when to take their shots down the field.
Trevor Lawrence did look a little rusty last week in the opener, that isn’t debatable. After starting the game 8-11, he only hit on 5 of his next 12 attempts, and also threw one uncharacteristic pick (two picks total) in which he was fooled by the coverage and had a DB jumped the route. What are the chances of Lawrence being off in consecutive weeks? Slim and none, and probably closer to none.
The Tigers core of wide receivers is as deep as any other team in the country. The face a stiff challenge this weak against a very long, and very athletic Texas A&M secondary. Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, Diondre Overton and crew will have to win one on one battles down the field, as well as their share of the 50/50 balls. We won’t be seeing a base offense with a vanilla gameplan. Expect to see a fair amount of four receiver sets and for the Tigers to try and stretch the field vertically, out of a multitude of formations. The Aggies have a punter that can flip the field on you from almost anywhere on the field, so hitting a few big ones on them could be the difference.
Last season when these two teams squared off, Kelly Bryant was the starting QB and this was still a run heavy offense. The game in College Station was the first road game of Lawrence’s career and despite connecting with Tee Higgins on a long TD throw, he looked uncomfortable a lot of the time. It was still a couple of more weeks before he took over full time and the passing game really started clicking as the game started to really slow down for him.
Jimbo Fisher is well aware of what might happen if he decides to key on one aspect of the Tigers offense in an effort to make them one dimensional. It is going to take a monumental effort from that Aggie defense to slow down this Clemson offense. If A&M is to pull this thing off, it will have to win in a shootout type of game. The Tigers have a retooled defense of their own, but this offense is plenty good enough to help and pick up any slack from over on the defensive side of the ball.
On paper it seems neither defense is leaps and bounds ahead of the other. Both offenses are good, but the Clemson offense is the better of the two. For that reason, give me the nations number one team playing at home in one of the best home field environments in all of college football. A place Clemson has lost just once in the past four plus seasons. A team that has won their last 11 by more than 20 points. They won’t cover the number. The Aggies will make some plays, just not enough. Give us the Tigers to get the W but the Aggies score late to make it look closer than it was….. Clemson 34 Texas A&M 30