Previewing Texas A&M

In this 11 part series I will break down and predict each Clemson football game for the 2004 season. Of course, much can and will change as fall practice commences and the season progresses.

So by no means do I envision a scenario where I am perfect, but the hope is to give a realistic view of where Clemson, and the rest of the ACC, will fall in the upcoming season.

Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Week #2: Previewing Georgia Tech

September 18, 2004
Clemson at Texas A&M 7:00 ET (WTBS)
At 2-0 on the young season, the Clemson Tigers will head out west for the first road game of the 2004 year. The first road test is a stiff one as the Tigers invade one of the most hostile environments in the nation in the name of Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

While Clemson will enter the game 2-0 and ranked just inside the top 15 nationally, the Aggies will be 1-1 and unranked. A&M will open the season at Utah before returning home to host Wyoming. Texas A&M will lose at Utah, but the Aggies should win in week two in a pivotal game for any legitimate bowl hopes in 2004.

Dennis Franchione is 4-8 in one year at Texas A&M with four victories coming against Arkansas State, Utah, Baylor and Kansas. The Aggies lost a close game to Pittsburgh, but were completely whipped in the other losses to Virginia Tech (35-19), Texas Tech (59-28), Nebraska (48-12), Oklahoma State (38-10), Oklahoma (77-0), Missouri (45-22), and Texas (46-15).

On offense, Texas A&M returns 7 players from last year's team that averaged a decent 25 points a game in 2003.

Quarterback Reggie McNeal is an athletic quarterback in the mold of Georgia Tech signal caller Reggie Ball. Like Ball, McNeal is streaky and can go from very good to very bad in a week's time. The coaches have publicly challenged McNeal to become more of a leader and toughen up mentally, and by week 3 we should have a good idea of whether or not he has answered the call.

Texas A&M RB Courtney Lewis rushed for 1,024 yards last year despite the lack of a true threat in the passing game.
Probably the most talented offensive player for the Aggies is running back Courtney Lewis. Lewis rushed for 1,024 yards last year despite the lack of a threat in the passing game to help him out. Lewis returns, as does senior fullback Keith Joseph who will lead the way blocking for the Aggie offense.

The Aggies also have an outstanding wide receiver in Terrence Murphy, who caught 44 balls for 762 yards in 2003 despite not catching a touchdown pass. Sophomore Earvin Taylor is also very good, while JUCO transfer DeQawn Mobley has the coaches expecting big things. Overall, the Aggie receivers are talented, tall, and there is plenty of depth to withstand injuries. Getting the ball to these playmakers falls back on McNeal.

The offensive line returns 3 of 5 starters in tackle Alex Kotzur, center Geoff Hangartner, and guard Aldo De La Garza. The Aggies will also have the services of tackle Jami Hightower who returns after missing the 2003 season due to injury. A&M's offensive line is big, (averaging over 6-4 and 300 pounds) but not overly quick. The unit as a whole, should be solid in 2004 and possibly a strength as the year progresses. In week 3 it could still resemble a unit looking for its footing.

On defense, A&M returns 7 players from a defense that gave up a whopping 39 points a game under the direction of Carl Torbush. The 465 points give up by the Aggie defense in 2003 was a school record that nobody in Aggie-land is proud of.

The defensive line is the first place Torbush will try to retool in order to get better production. Senior defensive end Mike Montgomery and junior Johnny Jolly are solid but undersized by Big 12 standards. The other two defensive lineman will be manned by red shirt freshmen Joseph Bryant and Jason Jack. This is a big question mark for the Aggies, especially in the early part of the season.

At linebacker, Franchione decided to simply go shopping on the JUCO network in hopes of landing immediate help. The Aggies inked 4 JUCO linebackers last signing day, and one of those (Aaron Brown) enrolled early and went through spring drills. At least 3 of those players will be needed to make major contributions, as only sophomore Justin Warren possess enough talent to keep the Aggies in games against good football teams.

Safety Jaxson Appel is a preseason All Big 12 first teamer and he is flanked by another talented safety in junior Ronald Jones.
In the secondary, A&M returns 3 of 4 defensive backs that could possibly be the strength of the defense. Safety Jaxson Appel is a preseason All Big 12 first teamer and he is flanked by another talented safety in junior Ronald Jones. The cornerbacks (Byron Jones and Jonte Buhl) got plenty of snaps in 2003, but their production was not as good as Franchione would have liked as A&M finished near the bottom of most passing defense categories. A&M may count on some of the red shirt freshman signed in Franchione's first year to improve the overall play of the secondary.

Todd Pegram does not have the strongest leg in the league, but he is fairly accurate. His 77% field goal accuracy last year was good enough for 4th in the Big 12. Jacob Young averaged a respectable 37 yards a punt last year, and he returns as well for Texas A&M.

Summary And Prediction
In a lot of ways, this game is terribly difficult to predict. On one hand, we don't know much about Texas A&M in that we don't play them every year and we don't see many of their games on television. On the other hand, the 86,000 fans that make up the 12th Man at Kyle Field is an advantage for obvious reasons. We will be on the road for the first time in 2004, and you really never know how a team is going to react to that situation.

If you simply looked at this game by matching up the teams position by position, Clemson is obviously the choice to win. Minus running back, there is probably no offensive or defensive unit we would trade with Texas A&M and feel like we are getting the better deal.

But games are sometimes won or lost not simply based on talent, but how that talent plays in respect to the opponent. This game has some similar feelings as of the game in College Park last year. Clemson was hitting the road for the first time in 2003, traveling up to play Maryland. Overall, Clemson had the better team.

It did not matter.

The Terrapins handedly defeated the Tigers on that blustery day as the team seemingly laid an egg. If Clemson lays an egg in College Station, a similar fate awaits the 2004 Tigers. The hope is that this team will not look past Texas A&M and see Florida State looming the next week.

If this game were played at Clemson with Duke coming in the next week, the Tigers woul win by double digits. Because it is in College Station and because the Seminoles await, this is an upset waiting to happen.

With Clemson goggles clearly on, I'll pick the Tigers. But I would not be shocked in the least if the Tigers come home 2-1. But for now, I think we survive…barely.

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