Clemson will do battle with one of the few team’s on their schedule with comparable raw talent on their roster: Texas A&M. As such, we’ve brought back the Depth Chart Analysis to help us preview the game.
If you haven’t read one of our Depth Chart Analyses before, please check out the methodology and disclaimer below before jumping in.
Methodology & Disclaimer:
We’ve divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, starting O-line, and two-deep for the remaining skill positions (WR, TE, RB) are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall offense rating. Similarly on defense, the two-deep at D-line, linebacker, and in the secondary are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall defense rating, regardless of scheme. All recruiting metrics are from Rivals.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but there are always players who over/under perform their star ranking (e.g., Hunter Renfrow). This is exception rather than the rule, and as such, these rankings are useful as one of many analytic tools to help us breakdown the upcoming game.
Both teams have five-star QBs that can light up even excellent defenses. Kellen Mond proved it against Clemson and Trevor Lawrence proved it against Notre Dame and Alabama. In 2018, Mond finished the season with 474 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs . This year, he already picked up 25 rushing yards and a rushing TD in week 1. That running threat could stress Clemson’s inexperienced front seven, but Clemson may have a running threat at QB too. Lawrence, who added some muscle in the offense, seemed to be a more willing runner against Georgia Tech. He gained 24 yards on the ground and had a great rushing TD on a zone read in the red zone:
Both QBs will have a bevy of skill position talent, but Clemson has an advantage here. Both WR corps are among the best in the country. Texas A&M has five four-star WRs in their two-deep. Clemson, which fancies itself “Wide Receiver U,” boasts three four-stars and three five-stars. Clemson has the advantage at RB where Travis Etienne is arguably the best in the country (despite being a former three-star), but Texas A&M has quality runners as well. Jashaun Corbin broke 100-yards in his first start last week.
Both QBs also play behind veteran offensive lines. Texas A&M returns four junior starters while Clemson starts four seniors. Clemson’s star ratings along the O-line have lagged behind some opponents (e.g., Notre Dame) when we’ve previously done these analyses. With LT Jackson Carman now starting, we have our first five-star OL included in the analysis since we started doing these several years ago. John Simpson and Sean Pollard were both four-star recruits. Combined, Clemson’s offensive line averages 3.80 stars. That’s a 0.40 star advantage over Texas A&M. Clemson’s O-line looked fine against GT, but now they get a real test. If this group is as good as the talent, experience, and showing vs. GT indicate, they’ll be an advantage against every opponent Clemson plays including potentially Alabama.
Both defenses lack experience in their front seven. Each team only returns one starter from their front seven: DT Justin Madubuike for Texas A&M and LB Isaiah Simmons for Clemson. Both defensive lines are talented (tied with a 3.88 star average), though Clemson’s isn’t as ridiculous as last season when they averaged 4.38 stars and had loads of experience. Clemson’s defensive line looked good against Georgia Tech, but this Aggie offensive line will provide a more meaningful test.
Clemson’s only returns one of their linebackers and averages the lowest star rating for any grouping here with a 3.33 star average. This is in-part because Isaiah Simmons was only a three-star when he came out of Kansas as a safety. His production may look more like that of a five-star and is an expected top 15 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Nevertheless, the low rating here highlights the lack of depth. Clemson can ill-afford an injury at this spot. Chad Smith impressed last week at weakside linebacker, but behind him is an inexperienced three-star. At middle linebacker we have two inexperienced three-stars (Jamie Skalski and Jake Venables). Despite this, I think Clemson fans feel pretty good about the linebacking corps. It helps that it is the position coached by DC Brent Venables. I’m certainly excited to watch Chad Smith again and hope to see Jake Venables contribute in a meaningful spot.
Texas A&M may have the star advantage at linebacker, but with no starters returning, they have concerns as well. In our Q&A, Rush Roberts of Good Bull Hunting highlighted their concern here. It seems both teams would be well advised to attack over the middle. Ironically, with Braden Galloway suspended and Baylor Cupp injured, neither have a TE who they can rely upon to do just that.
Finally, in the secondary you have the spot where each team struggled most last year. Clemson’s struggles in the secondary against A&M and U of SC last season were oft-discussed. Texas A&M, for their part, ranked 12th in the SEC in passing yards allowed. Both figure to improve this year. Although Clemson has a 3.50 average star rating compared to Texas A&M’s 3.75 the Tigers should feel fine about this position. Former two-star recruits Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson are quality reserves at safety now in their junior and senior seasons, respectively.
The first and most obvious take-away is that the Aggies are on the same level, more or less, with the Tigers from a recruited talent standpoint. Obviously, as we say in the disclaimer, this is just one tool to help analyze the game. Experience, culture, player development, play-calling, and home-field advantage are others. That said, the recruited talent points to this being Clemson’s toughest test of the season. Syracuse certainly won’t be this close in recruited talent and FSU has a bevy of other issues. U of SC won’t be this close in recruited talent AND has a bevy of other issues!
While Clemson’s offense has the slight talent advantage over Texas A&M, it’s here where the Aggies are scariest. They were 4th in the SEC in points per game last season and bring back most of their key contributors (RB Trayveon Williams, TE Jace Sternberger, and C Erik McKoy are the key losses). After Kellen Mond’s blow up performance against Clemson last year, it’s scary to think what he can do with more experience and more experience around him. Fortunately, Clemson’s defense showed enough against Georgia Tech to instill confidence. DT Tyler Davis and LB Chad Smith in particular lent confidence that the front seven would be just fine before long — the worry where they are in week 2.
I’d love to see Clemson continue their 11-game streak of winning by 20+ points, but continuing their 16 game-win streak is what counts. I expect QB Kellen Mond and RB Jashaun Corbin to find some running lanes against Clemson’s inexperienced front-seven, and despite Clemson having a strong secondary, they can’t be expected to totally stop a QB of Mond’s quality with the WRs he has. It would be surprising if Clemson held Texas A&M below 21-24 points.
ESPN’s FPI gives Clemson a 87.5% chance to win. This seems spot on. There’s some legitimate risk here. Texas A&M is talented, but there’s a reason Clemson is favored by 17 points. Covering that spread may prove too difficult, but you never know when Clemson will go into “Leave No Doubt” mode and blowout an opponent when you’re expecting a competitive game. That said, a close win in the ballpark of 35-28 seems most probable.