Clemson at Texas AM

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 7:46 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
TV: ESPN
SERIES: Texas A&M leads 3-1. Clemson’s win came in the last meeting, 25-24 in 2005.
RANKINGS: Clemson No. 2

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tigers

–QB Trevor Lawrence did his best to upstage starter Kelly Bryant in Clemson’s win last week, passing for three touchdowns and joining former star Deshaun Watson as the lone quarterbacks in school history to throw three touchdown passes in his first career game. Coach Dabo Swinney says the two will split snaps against Texas A&M, but don’t be surprised if Lawrence gets the bulk of the work, particularly if Bryant struggles early.

–WR Amari Rodgers caught three passes for a team-leading 44 yards and a touchdown last week, but his biggest contributions came on special teams. Rodgers, a sophomore, returned two punts for 87 yards, including a 62-yard effort to set up a field goal. Rodgers finished with a team-best 141 all-purpose yards and his across-the-board contributions could mean the difference against an opponent such as Texas A&M.

–RB Lyn-J Dixon also had an auspicious debut for Clemson, rushing for 89 yards on only six carries and showing that he could remain a threat throughout the season despite entering the game fourth on the Tigers’ depth chart. “He runs relentlessly,” Swinney said.

–RT Tremayne Anchrum may be coming into his own. The junior tackle made the eighth start of his career his best last week, grading out at 94 percent with two knockdown blocks. He was named ACC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week for the first time in his career.

Aggies

–QB Kellen Mond completed 17 of 25 passes for 184 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions against Northwestern State. He said former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was somebody he looked up to while in high school and that he tries to model his game after that dual threat. “I’d be all for that,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said with a smile:

–RB Trayveon Williams should be in line for a big season, given Fisher’s emphasis on running the ball. Williams ran 240 yards and three touchdowns last week on 20 carries.

–TE Jace Sternberger, a junior college transfer, should excel in Fisher’s pro-style offense. Sternberger had five catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns in his Texas A&M debut last week, becoming the first Aggie tight end with multiple touchdown catches in a game since 2010.

–LB Otaro Alaka needs two tackles to reach 200 for his career. The senior is A&M’s leading active tackler by a margin of more than 60 stops and also is the leader in career starts with 35. He and C Erick McCoy have made 27 consecutive starts.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still has nightmarish visions of his first and only trip to Texas A&M for a football game.

Swinney was in his second year as a wide receivers coach when the Tigers were bludgeoned by the Aggies 27-6 in 2004.

“That was a butt-whipping we took out there — we got destroyed,” Swinney said. “I remember it all too well. But it was a great experience to see that venue. It was an incredible game-day environment. Hopefully, this time we can do a little better than we did 14 years ago.”

Swinney will find out Saturday when his No. 2-ranked Tigers (1-0) visit Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, once again to challenge a Texas A&M team (1-0) that is hoping to take another step toward prominence under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Swinney and Fisher, who at Florida State the previous eight seasons, will be facing off for a ninth consecutive year. When Fisher was coaching the Seminoles, the teams split their eight meetings, but Clemson won each of the last three.

“It was kind of ironic, when I accepted the job, looked down (at the schedule) — ‘You’ve got to be kidding,'” Fisher said. “I said, ‘Really?’ It’s ironic, because whoever won that game for so many years won the conference. Every year that was a critical game. I guess it’s kind of ironic. I guess it’s fitting.”

Both teams opened last week with resounding victories against FCS opponents

Clemson dispatched Furman 48-7 and the Aggies rolled past Northwestern State 59-7. With their No. 2 ranking, the Tigers will be the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to play at Kyle Field.

“It’s a great opportunity for everybody to go out there and perform and show what we can do,” said Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams, who rushed for 240 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern State.

Williams and the Aggies rushed for 503 yards — the second-highest total in school history — in the opener, but yardage will be tougher to come by against a Clemson defense that returned eight starters, including all four starters on its defensive front, each of whom has earned All-America honors of some sort during their career.

“Clemson’s D-line is dynamic,” Fisher said. “They can beat you with power. They beat you with speed. They have good experience. It’s going to be a great challenge.”

As if dealing with a veteran Clemson defense wasn’t challenging enough, the Aggies must also deal with an offense loaded with skill and depth. The Tigers’ leading rusher last week was freshman Lin-J Dixon, who’s fourth on the depth chart at running back, and 11 different receivers caught at least one pass. Two of the team’s three receiving touchdowns came via freshmen.

Then there’s the matter of quarterbacks. Incumbent Kelly Bryant, who guided Clemson to a 12-2 record and a third consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff last season, started the opener and threw for one score and ran for another, but was upstaged by big-armed freshman Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence joined Deshaun Watson as the only other quarterback in school history to throw three touchdown passes in his first game.

Swinney said that Bryant and Lawrence will split snaps once again.

“As crazy as it sounds, they’re probably more similar than they are different in some ways,” Fisher said. “You say one throws it better than the other, but the other has been very productive at times. Kelly has, in big games, and Trevor’s a very talented guy. They’re both good in all aspects.”

Swinney has been duly impressed by Texas A&M’s quarterback, Kellen Mond.

“He brings a lot of athleticism and I think Jimbo likes that,” Swinney said. “His ability to throw the ball on the run is very impressive. I think he’s matured and there’s a new staff, a new scheme there and there’s confidence that comes with that.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Jimbo and I’m looking forward to seeing our team going on the road and staying focused and adjusting to adversity in the game, because there’s going to be adversity. That’s fun — win or lose. This is the type of game that I think makes you better. It gives you a chance to grow your team as you go through the season.”

 

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