Kyle Field should be electric on Saturday night, as Texas A&M hosts Clemson in one of the top games for Week 2 of the 2018 college football season. This matchup was billed as one of the top non-conference games of the year, and it’s also the first opportunity for new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher to guide the program to a marquee win and deliver a statement on the national stage. While conference supremacy can’t be defined by non-conference matchups, the SEC is already off to a good start after picking up wins by Auburn (Washington) and LSU (Miami) in Week 1. Can Texas A&M earn another huge non-conference victory for the SEC? Or will the Tigers once again take care of business and show why this team is clearly the top program in the ACC right now?
Both Clemson and Texas A&M recorded easy victories in Week 1. The Aggies crushed Northwestern State 59-7 on Thursday, Aug. 30. The victory was a perfect debut for Fisher, as Texas A&M recorded 758 total yards and limited the Demons to just 251. Clemson cruised to a 48-7 victory over Furman last Saturday, as coach Dabo Swinney’s team was sharp on both sides of the ball. The Tigers averaged 7.5 yards a play, and the defense held Furman to just 163 yards.
Clemson and Texas A&M have four previous meetings, with the Aggies holding a 3-1 edge. Clemson won the last matchup in 2005, but Texas A&M claimed victories in the first three games between these two programs.
Clemson at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Clemson -12
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas A&M’s Offensive Line and RB Trayveon Williams
Texas A&M’s hopes of an upset rest on the offensive line. This unit was inconsistent last fall and entered the 2018 season as a question mark. As if that wasn’t enough, the Aggies’ front five gets to face off against the No. 1 defensive line in college football on Saturday night. Clemson is loaded with talented in the trenches, as all four starting linemen – Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant – could earn postseason All-America honors.
In the opener against Northwestern State, Texas A&M gashed the Demons for 503 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Running back Trayveon Williams is poised for a big year in Fisher’s offense and opened the 2018 campaign with 240 yards and three scores on 20 attempts. Williams isn’t the biggest back (5-foot-9 and 200 pounds) but is capable of taking any carry to the end zone for six points. How much success Williams has against one of the nation’s top defensive fronts is critical to the outcome of Saturday night’s matchup. Fisher wants to establish the run and win the battle in the trenches. However, it’s clear the Aggies have some work to do in this department.
Pass protection is another element to monitor when Texas A&M has the ball. The Aggies gave up two sacks in the opener against Northwestern State, but quarterback Kellen Mond’s mobility could be a huge asset against an athletic front.
If Texas A&M can’t get Williams on track, it’s tough to see a path to a victory for Fisher’s team.
2. Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond
In a bit of a surprise to some, new coach Jimbo Fisher named Mond the starter over Nick Starkel prior to the opener against Northwestern State. While both quarterbacks had moments of promise in 2017, Starkel was more of a pocket passer and was considered a better fit for Fisher’s offense. However, Mond made quite an impression on Fisher in the offseason and looked sharp in the opener. The sophomore completed 17 of 25 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns and added a score on the ground. Mond has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including tight end Jace Sternberger and receivers Jhamon Ausbon, Camron Buckley and Quartney Davis.
As mentioned above, it’s no secret Fisher wants to establish the run and not put the game on all Mond’s shoulders. But in order for Texas A&M to establish the run, Mond needs to start fast through the air and prevent Clemson from stacking the box. Fisher didn’t utilize his quarterback on many run plays at Florida State, but Mond’s athleticism and mobility needs to be a part of the gameplan.
Can Mond make a few plays with his legs to keep Clemson off balance? And most importantly, can he play a mistake-free game against one of the top defenses in the nation?
3. Clemson’s Quarterbacks and Skill Talent Versus Texas A&M
Kelly Bryant delivered a solid 2017 season in his debut as Clemson’s starting quarterback, but he wasn’t guaranteed a starting job for '18. True freshman and five-star prospect Trevor Lawrence arrived on campus in the spring and possesses the arm talent needed to help Clemson push the ball downfield. Lawrence was neck-and-neck with Bryant for the starting job throughout offseason workouts, and both quarterbacks are set to see time on Saturday night. In the opener, Bryant threw for 127 yards and a touchdown on 10 completions and added 44 rushing yards and a score. Lawrence completed 9 of 15 passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
Bryant and Lawrence are both going to see time on Saturday night, which presents an interesting challenge for Texas A&M’s defense. New coordinator Mike Elko was one of the top assistant hires for 2018 and is familiar with this offense from his time at Wake Forest. The Aggies have the personnel to give Clemson some trouble on offense. Defensive end Landis Durham recorded 12 tackles for a loss last season, and Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson form one of the SEC’s top linebacker duos. The secondary finished 13th in the league in pass efficiency defense last season but isn’t short on talent.
Can Elko’s defense find a way to contain a Clemson attack that features one of the nation’s top receiving corps and a standout duo at running back in Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster? Texas A&M will need to find a way to create a couple of takeaways and will have to hold the Tigers to three points once they reach the red zone.
Jimbo Fisher has Texas A&M on the right path, but this is a tough matchup to win in his second game at the helm. In order for the Aggies to pull off the upset, the offensive line has to show marked improvement from the 2017 version, while Mond and Williams have to deliver big-time performances. That’s a tough order against Clemson’s defense. For the Tigers, this is a good opportunity for Swinney to get an extended look at both quarterbacks in a tough environment against an improving defense. Texas A&M hangs tough, but the Tigers pull away in the fourth quarter to improve to 2-0.