Clemson passed what will likely be its toughest test of the regular season Saturday, handling Texas A&M 24-10. Here is what we learned from the win before the top-ranked Tigers travel to Syracuse this coming Saturday:
The Aggies weren’t ready for Death Valley
Texas A&M players thought they would be able to handle the crowd noise at Clemson, and offensive lineman Jared Hocker went as far as to proclaim, “There will be an upset.” But the Aggies offense wasn’t ready for Brent Venables’ defense or the environment. Texas A&M committed nine penalties for 85 yards, and five of them were pre-snap penalties by the offense. There were four false starts by the offensive line and a delay of game. Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond also appeared rattled, missing open receivers from the first series on.
“They try to replicate it but it’s hard,” Tigers safety Tanner Muse said. “Death Valley is a monster. It will eat you up and spit you out.”
Clemson wanted to leave no doubt
The Tigers won at Texas A&M a year ago, but it was far from pretty. Clemson nearly blew a 28-13 second-half lead before getting a stop on a two-point conversion late to hold on for the win. While the victory was a big one for Clemson, it also left the Tigers far from satisfied. Clemson came out on a mission Saturday to show that without a doubt it is a better team than Texas A&M. Mission accomplished.
“It was a big game. Last year kind of left some doubt,” star quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “A lot of people said it was lucky we came out of there with a win. So we wanted to leave no doubt this year, and I think we did that.”
Amari Rodgers is healthy
The Clemson receiver returned from a torn ACL suffered during the spring and looked just fine. Rodgers did not start but was in the game in the first quarter and finished with two catches for six yards. He should be more and more involved in the offense as the season goes along and will likely get his starting job back for next week’s game at Syracuse. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney was looking for a reason to not play Rodgers as he is less than six months out from suffering a torn ACL, but he couldn’t find one.
“He’s been begging me to let him play,” Swinney said. “He sent me a text two days ago, ‘Coach, please trust me. I’m ready. I’m ready.’ ”
Added Lawrence: “He’s a great player. He’s rehabbed super hard and worked extremely hard to get back. It was good having him back in practice this week, and you saw he had some catches out there tonight, and he looks good. He looks 100 percent.”
Clemson has a pair of impressive running backs
Travis Etienne gets all the attention, and for good reason, but don’t sleep on sophomore running back Lyn-J Dixon. The Georgia native led the Tigers with 11 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown against the Aggies and resembled the Heisman candidate Etienne on several of his runs. Dixon is fast, powerful, has great vision and is really becoming a weapon for the Tigers.
“Lyn-J is a guy, much like Travis, that any time he touches the ball he’s got a chance to score,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “That’ll definitely be a good one-two punch for us this year.”
The Clemson defense is going to be just fine
Clemson has seven new starters, including six on its front seven, but it appears that Brent Venables once again has one of the best defenses in the country. The Tigers kept Texas A&M out of the end zone until the final minute when Mond threw a touchdown pass in garbage time. Clemson used six different personnel groups against the Aggies after using two a week earlier against Georgia Tech, and Venables was able to confuse Mond and Jimbo Fisher’s offense. On the second play of the game the Tigers used a 3-2-6 formation, moving linebacker Isaiah Simmons to safety.
“We’ve seen some of that in practice, and that’s good for us too because it challenges us. At some point this season somebody’s going to pull that out on us and we’re going to be prepared,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “So I know how nasty that stuff is and how he has the ability to create pressure out of that structure. And really, really, really challenge a quarterback. I’m glad it’s not just us that sees it.”