Clemson at Texas A&M
September 6, 2018
By Brian Edwards
Editor's Note: Brian Edwards is 3-1 on his guaranteed college plays and also 3-1 on four college football totals to date. He's got the TCU at SMU 'over/under' locked and loaded as his next pay-if-it-wins-only selection, so don't miss out on this winner!
Matchup: (2) Clemson at Texas A&M
Venue: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Time/TV: Friday, Sept. 7, ESPN2, 8:00 p.m. ET
The Jimbo Fisher Era at Texas A&M got off to a rousing start last Thursday, albeit against cupcake competition. Nevertheless, the Aggies took it to Northwestern State in a 59-7 win as a 46.5-point home favorite at Kyle Field.
With two extra days of rest, Fisher’s team knows it faces an enormous challenge with Clemson coming to College Station on Saturday night. The oddsmakers know it, too, listing the Tigers as 12-point road favorites with a total of 54 as of Thursday afternoon. The Aggies were +375 on the money line (risk $100 to win $375).
Junior running back Trayveon Williams produced monster numbers in his 15th career start against the Demons last week. Williams ran for 240 yards and three TDs on 20 attempts. Kellen Mond completed 17-of-25 passes for 184 yards and two TDs without an interception. He also had a one-yard rushing TD.
Texas A&M enjoyed a 758-251 advantage in total offense. When back-up QB Nick Starkel connected with Jalen Preston for a 14-yard TD pass with 8:00 remaining, the 66 combined points elevated ‘over’ the 64.5-point total. Junior TE Jace Sternberger, a juco transfer who started his career at Kansas, had five receptions for 56 yards and two TDs.
Mike Elko, A&M’s new defensive coordinator who Fisher hired away from Notre Dame, had to be pleased with his unit’s effort. The Aggies stuffed Northwestern State’s ground attack by allowing merely 21 rushing yards on 13 attempts for a meager 1.6 yards-per-carry average.
Texas A&M went 7-6 straight up and 7-4-2 against the spread last season, resulting in Kevin Sumlin’s dismissal. The writing was on the wall all year long after A&M somehow allowed a 44-10 lead late in the third quarter at UCLA to turn into a crushing 45-44 defeat.
The Aggies responded with four consecutive victories that should’ve left them with a 5-0 record with Alabama coming to town. Instead, Sumlin’s bunch was just 4-1 and listed as a 25.5-point home underdog to the Crimson Tide. A&M did cover in the 27-19 loss but failed to steal a win back to replace the one taken from it by the Bruins.
Sumlin’s team improved to 5-2 with a 19-17 win at Florida, but two home losses by double-digit margins followed to seal Sumlin’s fate. First, Mississippi State came to Kyle Field and won 35-14 as a short underdog. Next, Auburn went to College Station and emerged with a 42-27 triumph.
After beating New Mexico at home and capturing a 31-24 win at Ole Miss, A&M was trounced 45-21 at LSU. Then in the bowl game without Sumlin, Wake Forest won a 55-52 decision over the Aggies.
Fisher inherited a team that brought back 16 total starters (eight on each side of the ball) and lost only 17 lettermen. He also had a pair of sophomore QBs that basically split time evenly last year. Many were surprised when Fisher announced Mond as the starter in late August.
Mond started eight games in 2017, completing only 51.5 percent of his throws for 1,375 yards with an 8/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He rushed for 340 yards (491 before subtracting sack yardage) and three TDs. Meanwhile, Starkel started five games and connected on 60.0 percent of his passes for 1,793 yards with a 14/6 TD-INT ratio. He isn’t as effective or elusive running the ball, which might be why Fisher gave Mond the nod.
Williams ran for 1,057 yards and averaged 6.8 YPC as a true freshman in 2016. His numbers dipped a bit last season, as he produced 798 rushing yards and eight TDs with a 4.6 YPC average.
Texas A&M’s defense gave up 30.7 points per game in ’17. Phil Steele’s SEC Unit Rankings in his preseason magazine ranked the Aggies sixth on the defensive line (out of 14 SEC schools), third at the LB position and eighth in the secondary.
A&M’s top players on defense include LB Tyrel Dodson, DE Landis Durham and nose guard Kingsley Keke. Dodson, a preseason first-team All-SEC pick in Steele’s mag, recorded 105 tackles, eight passes broken up, 5.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, four QB hurries and three interceptions, including a pick-six in '17. Durham, a preseason second-team All-SEC choice, finished in a tie for the league lead in sacks (10.5) last year, in addition to contributing 56 tackles, 1.5 TFL’s, four QB hurries and three forced fumbles.
Clemson (1-0 SU, 0-1 ATS) has established itself as the nation’s second-best program behind only Alabama over the past three years. Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances, including the school’s first national title since 1981 two seasons ago and a runner-up finish in 2015.
Clemson finished ’17 with a 12-2 SU record and an 8-5-1 ATS mark, losing 24-6 to Alabama in the CFP semifinals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Nevertheless, the Tigers won a third straight ACC title and won 10 of their 12 games by double-digit margins.
Swinney’s squad returns seven starters offense, eight on defense and lost only 19 lettermen. All four of Clemson’s defensive linemen are preseason All-Americans in Steele’s mag. DT Christian Wilkins and DE Clelin Ferrell are both first-teamers, while DT Dexter Lawrence is a second-teamer and DE Austin Bryant is a third-team selection.
Brent Venables, who Swinney craftily hired away from Oklahoma as his defensive coordinator after West Virginia and Geno Smith hung 70 on the Tigers at the Orange Bowl, fielded a nasty unit that gave up only 13.6 PPG last season. Ferrell produced 66 tackles, 12 QB hurries, two forced fumbles and two PBU, and he paced the Tigers in sacks (9.5) and TFL’s (eight). Bryant had 58 tackles, 8.5 sacks, seven TFL’s, 12 QB hurries, two PBU, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Senior QB Kelly Bryant is getting some strong competition for his job from true freshman Trevor Lawrence, who enrolled early for spring practice and was ranked as the nation’s best pro-style QB in the 2018 recruiting class. Bryant completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards with a 13/8 TD-INT ratio last year. He also ran for 665 yards and 11 TDs.
Clemson captured a 48-7 win over Furman in last week’s opener, but it failed to cover the spread as a 49-point home ‘chalk.’ The 55 combined points went ‘over’ the 50.5-point total thanks to a 16-yard TD pass from Darren Grainger to Ryan DeLuca to put the Paladins on the board with 1:18 remaining.
Bryant completed 10-of-16 passes for 127 yards and one TD without an interception. He ran for 58 yards and one TD on just five attempts. Lawrence looked sharp in his collegiate debut, connecting on 9-of-15 throws for 137 yards and three TDs without an interception. True freshman RB Lyn-J Dixon rushed for 89 yards on only six carries, while Travis Etienne had 64 rushing yards and one TD on 11 totes.
Etienne was a second-team All-ACC selection as a true freshman last season. He ran for 766 yards and 13 TDs with a 7.2 YPC average. The backfield is loaded with talent, including junior Tavien Feaster, who rushed for 669 yards and seven TDs while averaging 6.3 YPC in ’17. Feaster had three carries for 24 yards vs. Furman.
Clemson is 16-18 ATS in 34 games as a road favorite during Swinney’s 11-year tenure. Meanwhile, Texas A&M is 6-9-1 ATS in its 16 games as a home underdog over the past decade.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- Clemson is 1-3 in four all-time meetings against Texas A&M, picking up its first win over the Aggies by a 25-24 count in 2005. The Tigers have lost in both visits to College Station by a combined score of 51-6, including a 27-6 defeat in 2004.
-- Clemson is 12-6 in 18 games against SEC opponents since 2011, but it is 8-2 in the past 10 encounters vs. SEC foes with the lone defeats coming in the CFP against Alabama.
-- Texas A&M senior DE Michael Clemons is ‘out’ with a foot injury. Clemons had 19 tackles, two TFL’s and one sack last season. He started two games last year and was expected to be a starter before getting injured over the summer.
-- Swinney has said all week that Bryant will start at QB, but both players will continue to get plenty of playing time early and often. He has used a “we’ll see” mantra but has consistently sounded like he’s perfectly comfortable with playing both QBs throughout the season.
-- Eastern Michigan owns an 11-1 spread record in its past 12 games as a road underdog. The Eagles, who lost six games by 23 combined points, including three in overtime(s), last year, are catching 16.5 points at Purdue. They only lost by double digits once last season and that was by just 12 points.
-- Arizona QB Khalil Tate might’ve seen any Heisman Trophy hopes he had dashed in a 28-23 season-opening home loss to BYU. Tate completed only 17-of-34 throws for 197 yards and one TD without an interception. He ran for only 14 yards and one TD on eight carries.
-- Former Arizona State QB Brady White fared well in his debut for Memphis. The Tigers trounced Mercer 66-14 as 30-point home favorites. White completed 22-of-28 passes for 358 yards and five TDs without an interception.
-- Syracuse QB Eric Dungey might be more important to his team than any other player in the country. Even though he sat out the third quarter once the Orange ran up a huge lead by halftime, only to blow nearly all of that advantage sans Dungey, he still finished with 200 rushing yards and one TD. Dungey also had a pair of TD passes without being intercepted. Look for the ‘Cuse to pound Wagner this weekend, pull a mild upset at home vs. FSU next week and be 4-0 when it travels to Death Valley to take on revenge-minded Clemson.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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