Junior quarterback Kellen Mond and the Texas A&M offense will face a different Clemson defense from last year after the Tigers lost the majority of their starters to the NFL this year.
Now, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have to work with an inexperienced defensive front that only returns one starter in veteran outside linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
Simmons led Clemson in tackles last year as a sophomore and also led the team in tackles last Thursday against Georgia Tech. With on-field leadership from Simmons and one of the best coordinators in the country to learn from, this defensive front will not have to rebuild for very long.
“Defensively, [Clemson] lost a lot of [defensive] linemen,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “But at the same time, it’s just [the] same bodies in different numbers.”
Defensive end Xavier Thomas has been a difference-maker for Clemson since his freshman season in 2018, playing in all 15 games and recording 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss. Thomas came out of high school as the top-ranked strong-side defensive end in his class.
Despite all of the talent in the starting front, the Tigers will have to deal with depth issues due to lack of experience.
Of the four starters returning last season from the Clemson defense, three of them are back in the defensive secondary. Against Georgia Tech, the Tigers’ secondary held the passing game to only 157 yards, not including the 39 percent completion rating from three different signal callers during the contest.
For the A&M offense, the competition they have faced since last season’s matchup and the offseason has helped them improve under Fisher’s system.
Mond put up impressive numbers in the season debut against Texas State, finishing 19-of-27 for 194 yards, three passing touchdowns and another rushing touchdown in three quarters. The junior exhibited more poise compared to last season.
This game will be won in the trenches on Saturday. A&M has an offensive line with a lot of talent and experience, but will have to take its game up a notch in order to attack an explosive defensive front. The Clemson defense swarmed Georgia Tech all game, racking up four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Despite the dominance, Clemson showed in that game, left guard Jared Hocker said he is confident in the Aggies’ ability to top the No. 1 team in the nation.
“There will be an upset,” Hocker said.
When Fisher heard of Hocker’s comment, he said he expects a lot from the guard.
“Jared [Hocker] better play well,” Fisher said. “It’s great, have that confidence, but that doesn’t need to be said. If you’re not confident that you’re going to be successful, yes [that’s a bad thing], and that comes from respect for [Clemson].”
Mond will utilize every weapon around him, starting with wideout Quartney Davis. The junior led the team in receiving against Texas State with six receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Starting wideout Jhamon Ausbon also had a strong debut with six receptions, 75 yards and a touchdown.
Lastly, the A&M run game will be a threat as long as tailbacks Isaiah Spiller and Jashaun Corbin are as explosive as they were last week. Both backs put up 106 and 104 yards, respectively, with a touchdown from Corbin.
A&M will face Clemson on Saturday, Sept. 7 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.