Keys to Clemson-Texas A&M Game

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Clemson Offense vs. Texas A&M Defense

The Tigers are facing a defense that gave up 38.8 points per game last season and a ton of yards and points in the opener versus Utah. Last year the Aggies were 96th in the country in total defense, 115th in the country in scoring defense and 112th in the nation against the run. Utah had success on the ground and through the air in the opener but Wyoming did not have the firepower to put up those type of numbers.

Texas A&M shutout Wyoming last week, 31-0 for the Aggies first win in 2004. Texas A&M gave up 582 yards of total offense in its season opening lost to Utah as opposed to 181 yards in a win last week.

The Aggies gave up 33 or more points nine times last season. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush has had problems with big plays in the past and the Tigers are hoping to hit a couple in this contest. Clemson had mixed results versus Torbush but the Tigers have never faced a Dennis Franchione team.

The A&M defensive front is big and has talent but is not as experienced as Torbush would like. Two freshmen are scheduled to start Saturday night. DE Jason Jack (6-4, 270) and DT Joseph Bryant (6-4, 316) are two newcomers that will play a big part in the Clemson game plan. Look for the Tigers to try to exploit their inexperience.

The Clemson offensive line will also feature a freshman in Barry Richardson (6-6, 356) more in this contest. Brad Scott's linemen have allowed only one sack in two games but teams have blitzed Whitehurst and have pressured him and forced him to throw the ball away often. Also the Tigers have max protected more this year than in years past.

Look for the emphasis on the running game to continue. The Tigers featured all three backs last week and could play four this week. Merriweather and Browning earned more snaps with long runs vs. Georgia Tech and Duane Coleman insists he will play Saturday. If Clemson can repeat a 200-yard rushing performance the Tigers will return with a victory in hand.

Justin Warren (6-3, 220) moves from the strong side linebacker to the middle linebacker spot for A&M. Former safety Keelan Jackson (6-1, 229) is an experienced senior at the strong side backer.

Whitehurst needs just ten completions to break Woodrow Dantzler’s career record of 460. The secondary for the Aggies will try to limit Clemson's big plays, keep things in front of them more and tackle better. Free safety Jaxson Appel (6-0, 198) is perhaps the best player in their secondary and will have to tackle well Saturday.

Clemson's Chansi Stuckey had a huge first game vs Wake but was held in check by the Yellow Jackets. The Tigers will once again try to get him the ball more often. Airese Currie has been consistent with the exception of one drop last week. He leads the ACC in receptions per game (7.5) and receiving yards (116.0)

In summary Clemson will try to do what a lot of teams have been able to do versus the Aggies and that is hit the big play and hit them early. Look for the first quarter to be a key. If the Tigers grab an early lead, the running game could become another factor. The highest temperatures of the year await Clemson on Saturday so depth may be more of an issue.

Texas A&M Offense vs. Clemson Defense

The Aggies feature a lot of speed at a couple of skill positions. It all starts at quarterback where speedster Reggie McNeal (6-2, 206) is experienced but inconsistent. McNeal can make plays and can strike from any point on the field. However, he continues to make mistakes and has cost the Aggies in the past.

We think Clemson will try to pressure McNeal but it will have to keep him contained in the pocket. His best work is done when he escapes the pocket. McNeal was limited in the spring with shoulder problems and was injured on his non-throwing arm two weeks ago. Keep an eye on his health as A&M has little experience with backups Ty Braynon and Stephen McGee.

McNeal is 31 of 59 for 508 yards and a touchdown through the air this season. He also has not thrown an interception. On the ground he has 24 carries and his 128 rushing yards lead A&M.

Perhaps the number-one target Clemson needs to stop is tailback Courtney Lewis (6-0, 195). The sophomore has breakaway speed and was the first freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards at A&M since Dante Hall in 1998. Lewis did not play last week but will play versus the Tigers. In the Utah game he had 10 carries for 44 yards.

There is little experience behind Lewis so the Aggies cannot afford an major injury here either.

The Aggies offensive line is huge but has issues also. Geoff Hangartner (6-5, 303) moved from center to strong tackle for the first time this year. Jami Hightower (6-4, 355) missed last season with an illness but returns at tight tackle. The strongest player on the line is Aloo Oe La Garza (6-4, 317) who returns at strong guard. Another freshman, Joey Thomas (6-5, 253) is the top tight end on the roster.

Last week, A&M light up the air ways for the first time this season. Terrence Murphy has 11 catches for 185 yards this season. He is an All-American candidate that could have turned pro last season. The second leading receiver is freshman Kerry Franks with five catches for 128 yards including an 84-yard touchdown.

Clemson’s defense in this contest starts with Leroy Hill. The senior linebacker garnered two sacks in last week’s game against Georgia Tech increasing his conference leading total to three on the season. Hill also leads the league in tackles for loss (5 for 39 yards) and is second in total tackles with 22. Clemson as a team has compiled ten sacks in two games to lead all schools in the ACC.

The Tiger defensive front has been a pleasant surprise because of the depth of defensive tackles Cory Groover, Chris McDuffie and Donnell Clark.

The Tigers secondary was supposed to be a strength but have given up many more plays than anticipated in the first two contest. Justin Miller and Tye Hill will have to hold Murphy in check Saturday.

In summary, this defense needs to force A&M to be one dimensional. If the Aggies can be unpredictable it could be a long night for the Tigers.

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