The Aggies and Tigers meet in Death Valley on Saturday afternoon
Death Valley will be rocking on Saturday afternoon, as Clemson hosts Texas A&M in one of the must-see matchups for college football’s Week 2 slate. If last year was any indication, then Saturday’s game should be a good one. These two teams met on Sept. 8, with the Tigers pulling off a 28-26 victory in College Station last season. Week 1 provided a good opportunity for both teams to knock off the offseason rust, and both teams come into this matchup with few injury concerns.
Texas A&M opened the 2019 season on Thursday night with an easy win over Texas State. The Aggies won 41-7 behind a strong effort from quarterback Kellen Mond (19 of 27 for 194 yards and three scores), and a defense that held the Bobcats to 3.6 yards a play. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has a handful of new faces stepping into key roles in the front seven on defense, and last week’s game was a good opportunity to gain experience before a tough road trip to Death Valley. The game against Clemson is the first in a handful of brutal matchups for Texas A&M. Fisher’s squad hosts Alabama and Auburn and gets LSU and Georgia on the road later this season.
Similar to Texas A&M, Clemson flexed its muscles in an easy win last Thursday. Led by an offense that averaged 8.0 yards per play, the Tigers handled ACC rival Georgia Tech 52-14. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence didn’t display his normal level of performance through the air, but coach Dabo Swinney’s team had more than enough from a suffocating defensive effort and big plays on the ground from running back Travis Etienne.
Texas A&M holds a 3-2 series edge over Clemson. The last two meetings (2005 and ’18) between these programs have been decided by three points or less.
Texas A&M at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -17.5
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Texas A&M was unable to establish the run in last year’s matchup against Clemson’s standout defensive front. Will that change on Saturday? While the names have changed in the trenches for coordinator Brent Venables, the Tigers still own one of the nation’s top defensive lines. Last season, Trayveon Williams was held to just 31 yards on 17 carries, with quarterback Kellen Mond leading the team (33 yards) on the ground. Texas A&M’s offensive line has made strides under Fisher’s watch and boasts a rising star at guard in freshman Kenyon Green. Jashaun Corbin is primed for a breakout year as Williams’ replacement and started the season by rushing for 103 yards and a score versus Texas State last week. However, Clemson’s defensive line held Georgia Tech to just 3.5 yards per carry and won't be easy to run on once again. Establishing the run is crucial for Texas A&M’s hopes of an upset win on Saturday.
Quarterback Kellen Mond was one of the SEC’s most-improved players last season and continued his development with a sharp performance in the opener. However, there’s a big difference between defenses at Texas State and Clemson. Mond was sacked three times in last year’s matchup between these two teams and will face plenty of pressure on Saturday afternoon. Cornerback A.J. Terrell and safeties Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace anchor a strong secondary for the Tigers, but this unit will be tested if Mond has time to throw. In last year’s meeting, Mond threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns. With a deep group of receivers – Quartney Davis, Jhamon Ausbon and Kendrick Rogers – Mond will test the depth in the secondary.
In last year’s game, Texas A&M passed 40 times and handed the ball off on 32 plays. Fisher won’t be afraid to open it up and let Mond win this game with his arm. However, the Aggies will need some balance and a threat of a rushing attack. Can the offensive line clear a few holes for Corbin? Or will Clemson’s rebuilt (but already stout) front win up front once again?
When Clemson Has the Ball
Despite quarterback Trevor Lawrence not performing up his usual standard, Clemson still averaged 8.0 yards a play and recorded 632 yards in the win over Georgia Tech last Thursday. Lawrence isn’t likely to have two off games in a row, so Texas A&M’s secondary is going to have its hands full with the passing attack on Saturday afternoon. Lawrence rushed for 24 yards and a touchdown on Thursday, which only adds to the difficulty in slowing down the Clemson offense.
In last year’s matchup, Clemson averaged 17.5 yards per completion. Tee Higgins recorded a 64-yard touchdown grab, with Hunter Renfrow and Amari Rodgers each contributing a big play downfield. Renfrow is gone to the NFL, but the Tigers are loaded with talent on the outside. Higgins and Justyn Ross combined for seven receptions in the opener and both players should challenge for All-America honors while headlining one of the nation’s best receiving corps. Rodgers is working his way back from an ACL injury suffered in the offseason. Freshmen Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata are rising stars and will factor into the gameplan on Saturday. Texas A&M finished 2018 ranked 12th in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and opened 2019 breaking in a couple of new starters. Junior Debione Renfro was projected to be a key piece in the secondary for coordinator Mike Elko, but he was suspended for the opener and won’t play again this Saturday.
In addition to the question marks on the back end, Texas A&M lost a good chunk of talent from the front seven. Tackle Justin Madubuike is one of the SEC’s best in the trenches and is the lone returning starter off a unit that ranked third nationally versus the run in 2018. Etienne managed only 44 yards and a touchdown in last year’s matchup but also received only eight carries. Texas State managed only eight rushing yards in Week 1, but Texas A&M’s rebuilt defense will face a much tougher test this week.
The battle in the trenches is going to play a key role in how these matchups play out. Can Texas A&M’s pass rush get to Lawrence and help prevent big plays downfield? Additionally, the front seven has to contain Etienne and not allow the junior to reel off any big plays. Look for Lawrence and his receivers to test the secondary early and often with deep shots downfield.
Texas A&M is on the right track under second-year coach Jimbo Fisher, but winning in Death Valley is going to be a tall order on Saturday. While there are a lot of new faces on defense, this unit is talented and will create some problems for the Clemson offense. When the Aggies have the ball, Fisher’s team has to find some ways to get Corbin on track on the ground. Mond is capable of winning this game with his arm, but having a steady ground game would alleviate some of the pressure. After an uneven performance in the opener, Lawrence should be sharper in Week 2 and will guide Clemson to a big non-conference victory.