No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Second-ranked Clemson will make its first trip to Kyle Field in College Station, Texas since 2004 when it visits Texas A&M today at 7 p.m.
The Tigers are 0-2 all-time at Kyle Field and have not won a game in the state of Texas since Frank Howard’s 1959 team beat TCU in the 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl.
With ESPN’s College GameDay in town, the Aggies are expecting more than 102,000 fans to descend upon College Station. The Tigers are a 12-point favorite over Texas A&M.
So, who has the edge?
Clemson’s defensive line vs. Texas A&M’s offensive line: This is perhaps the biggest matchup of the night. Clemson is loaded with four possible first-round picks in Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. Even against Furman, the Tigers’ front four played as if they were in the national championship game, recording five of the team’s 10 tackles for loss. Wilkins led the team in tackles with seven in the season opener. Texas A&M has potential on the O-Line, but it also has three sophomores—Dan Moore (left tackle), Jared Hocker (right guard) and Carson Green (right tackle)—that have very little experience going up against a defensive front that has started a combined 96 games since 2015. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s linebackers vs. Texas A&M’s running backs and tight ends: Because Clemson’s defensive line is so good, Aggies’ quarterback Kellen Mond will want to get the ball out of his hands quickly to counter the Tigers’ strong pass rush. To do this, Jimbo Fisher will do what he does best, he will set up screens to his running backs and his tight ends. This will put pressure on Clemson’s linebackers—Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar and Isaiah Simmons—to stay alert and try not to get caught up in the wash or out of position. It will also be important for defensive ends Ferrell and Bryant to recognize the screens and blow up potential long gainers from running back Trayvon Williams and tight end Jace Sternberger. Advantage: Texas A&M
Trayvon Williams vs. Clemson’s run defense: Clemson held Furman to 2.2 yards per carry and totaled 84 negative yards. The Paladins, who run a triple-option offense, did not get over 100 total yards in the game until the final few minutes when they broke off a long run against mostly third-team and walk-on players. Williams, on the other hand, rushed for 240 yards and scored three touchdowns against Northwestern State last week. His 240 yards was his third 200-yard rushing performance of his career and the second most yards by a Texas A&M running back ever. Something has to give, and I think it will be Williams’ and his offensive line that will get worn down by a Clemson front four that will roll fresh players on the field all night. Advantage: Clemson
Bryant-Lawrence vs. The 12th Man: The 12th Man at Texas A&M is the student body which proudly stands during every game in honor of the original 12th Man, E. King Hill, who came out of the stands and stood on the sidelines in the 1922 Dixie Classic in Dallas because everyone else on the team was beat up. He stood alone on the sidelines and never got in the game, thus one of college football’s oldest and greatest traditions was born. Clemson quarterbacks Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence will have to overcome this great tradition as well as 60,000 more Aggies. Communication will not be easy, especially early in the game. Bryant should be used to the noise given his experience in tough road games. However, this will be Lawrence’s first road game and it will be interesting to see how the freshman responds in a hostile environment. Advantage: Texas A&M
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney vs. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher: This is one of the best coaching rivalries in college football. Over the last eight years, Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher have owned every ACC Atlantic Division title and they have won the last seven ACC titles. In head-to-head matchups, Fisher won four times, Swinney won four times. Fisher’s Florida State teams won three straight from 2012-‘14. Swinney and the Tigers have won the last three meetings. Swinney has four ACC Championships, Fisher has three. Swinney has won a national championship and played for another at Clemson. Fisher won one for the Seminoles in 2013. The last three years, Swinney and his staff have outcoached Fisher and his. However, this year, though Clemson is very familiar with Fisher and defensive coordinator Mike Elko, there is a little unknown, too. However, most of Clemson’s coaching staff has been together for a long time and the players have bought in and completely trust the system. That cannot be said for Fisher, just yet. He is still trying to build his program in Aggieland and right now is still gaining his team’s trust. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom Line: The atmosphere at Kyle Field is going to be ridiculous tonight. The stadium is going to be loud and the A&M players are going to be pumped. The 12th Man will be amazing. It will be one of the best environments in college football. However, none of that has to do with football. Clemson is the better team. Clemson is the more experienced team. Clemson knows how to win on the road. Clemson knows how to play in these environments. Like Swinney said earlier in the week, the fans don’t have to play. The Aggies will keep things close early due to emotions. In the end, though tough, the Tigers will pull away and will leave Kyle Field with their first victory there, and an impressive road win at that.
Prediction: Clemson 42, Texas A&M 17