When Texas A&M played Clemson last year, the top-ranked Tigers were just a shell of who they are now.
Clemson, who will host the No. 12 Aggies on Saturday (3:30 p.m.), where more of a running team. Kelly Bryant was still the quarterback and Trevor Lawrence was still figuring things out. Lawrence showed a glimpse of what the second half of the season was going to be like for the Tigers when he hit Tee Higgins for a 65-yard touchdown pass.
But, being that it was his first road game, Lawrence struggled somewhat, and Bryant bailed the Tigers out with two third-quarter touchdowns that allowed them to gain control of the game and ultimately win it.
However, by the next road game a few weeks later at Georgia Tech, Lawrence began to blossom and the offense, which already had one of the ACC’s best running games, started clicking on all cylinders. Lawrence won the job, Bryant left for Missouri and Clemson won another national championship.
This year, A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher knows the Tigers will be hard to stop.
“Say you want to take all the wideouts away, they run the football,” he said. “They are very good up front, too. They protect and they can run and they’re physical. Then you say, ‘I will double this guy.’ Then you leave another guy wide open. That is the thing. How you match it up and where you get it at trying to create different looks at different times, I think you can’t do the same thing.”
In last week’s opening win over Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets were determined not to let Lawrence and his band of wide receivers beat them. They played a lot of zone, mostly Cover 2 and dared the Tigers to throw the football.
Clemson did not. Instead it ran it to the tune of 411 yards. The most rushing yards for a Clemson offense in the series since 1903 when the Tigers won 73-0.
Running back Travis Etienne rushed for 205 yards and scored 3 touchdowns on just 12 carries. One of his 3 scores was a school-record 90-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
“Trevor is too smart. They have too good of coaches,” Fisher said. “You are going to have to keep your looks multiple. You will have to disguise things. You are going to have to do things as best you can, but at the same time you can’t do it if you are out of position to make plays.”
If a defense gears to try and take Etienne away, then Lawrence will have no issue looking for Higgins, Justyn Ross, Diondre Overton, Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson … all 6-foot-4, 200-pound-plus receivers.
“They are so challenging. Most teams will have one dominant wideout where he is just so explosive, they got three, four or five of those guys,” Fisher said. “Their backs are the same way. It is extremely challenging. It is going to be a big burden on everybody.
“I know everybody says it is just our secondary, but it is your defensive front, your linebackers because at different times when you do different things, there is going to be pressure put on different guys on your defense. They are as challenging as anybody.”
And then there is Lawrence’s legs. Thought of as a pocket passer, it was the sophomore’s ability to run successfully that opened the lanes for Etienne in the running game. Lawrence averaged 8.0 yards per carry and had a 22-yard run wiped away due to a holding call.
“Then you have a quarterback who can really throw it and is as good as Trevor is,” Fisher said. “The thing I don’t want people to lose sight of is that he is very athletic. You start thinking he is just a big pocket guy and you see it … this guy can run. He can create plays with his legs too and keep plays alive or create plays.
“They are an extremely dangerous team and it will be a huge challenge for us, no doubt.”
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