5 Keys to Whipping Texas A&M

Clemson travels west Saturday to take on the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field for a TBS showdown between the Big 12 and the ACC. The Tigers are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Georgia Tech, while the Aggies rebounded nicely last week against Wyoming after losing to Utah in week one.<BR>

Here are five Keys for the game on Saturday night in College Station.

1. Not Another Reggie!
The Clemson defense will try to get their arms around another Reggie Saturday night in College Station. This time it is A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal, who is a shorter and faster version of Reggie Ball.

McNeal is averaging 254 yards passing and 64 yards rushing so far this year, and both stats lead the team. Even more impressive is the fact that McNeal has thrown 59 passes so far this year without a single interception.

While McNeal's numbers are solid through the air, a bigger concern is his ability to run. A&M will run some option and some designed draws to give McNeal the opportunity to make some plays in the open field. And McNeal is not afraid to tuck the ball and run if he feels pressure from opposing defenses.

McNeal's play will be critical to how successful the A&M offense is against Clemson Saturday night. If Clemson can disrupt his rhythm and force him to make mistakes, the Tigers will likely win the game. But stopping McNeal all together will be a tough task, especially for a defense like Clemson's that loves to fly to the football. Sometimes that over pursuit can cause major problems. Expect Leroy Hill to be the key here…and he is the kind of player that can rise to the challenge with his quickness to the ball.

2. Turn-Over The Turnovers
Amazingly, a team as young as Texas A&M has yet to turn the football over this season. That's right, the Aggies have no interceptions and no lost fumbles. In addition, Texas A&M has forced four fumbles and intercepted the ball three times.

On the flip side, Clemson has turned the football over a bunch. The Tigers have thrown four interceptions while only picking off one themselves. Clemson has also put the ball on the ground five times, thankfully losing only one. Opponents have only put the ball on the ground two times and only have lost one on the young season.

Winning the turnover battle is sometimes a bit of a cliché. Clemson does not have to "win" the turnover battle this Saturday by forcing more turnovers than they give up, but the Tigers are going to need to at least break even if they are going to walk away from College Station victorious.

A&M is young and you would think that inexperience would work against them in the turnover department. And the lack of turnovers may catch up to the Aggies Saturday, as sometimes a thing like that comes in bunches. I also suspect that Clemson has worked hard to try and minimize their mistakes, especially in the passing game.

But the onus really falls to the Clemson defense to start making more plays. The secondary has dropped interceptions and the front seven have forced few fumbles. To be a good team you have to, at some point, force some turnovers. We'll see if that happens Saturday.

3. Give Charlie a Chance
The talk around the water cooler all week is…what is wrong with Charlie Whitehurst? The short answer is nothing. Coach O'Cain spent a good part of the Tuesday press conference explaining why Whitehurst's numbers are down to start the year.

O'Cain cited dropped balls, lack of protection, mistimed routes, and smart throwaways by Charlie as reasons for the less than 50% completion percentage. And, by and large, O'Cain is right on the money with that analysis.

The completion percentage has not been a concern for me as much as Charlie's comfort level in the passing game. It's almost as if he has yet to establish the trust with his wide outs this year, which could be a result of his two primary targets from last year being in the NFL at not on the receiving end of his passes.

And Whitehurst misses Duane Coleman, a guy who was a great safety valve when the blitzes were coming or if his primary receivers were covered. Who knows whether Coleman will be back this week, but maybe Kyle Browning can serve that purpose for the time being.

Texas A&M is playing a young defense that had a ton of shifts in personnel from week 1 to week 2, something that Coach Fran says was a part of the shutout effort against Wyoming. "It was better because they were more confident. There were a lot of areas that touch on why it was better in addition to the changes in personnel."

There are few defenses in this country that can completely shut down Clemson's offense, and the Aggie defense is not one of them. However, it is going to take somebody other than Whitehurst to make plays for Clemson to be consistent on offense. All Charlie can do is release the ball. He can't catch it. He can't run the route to perfection. He can't break a tackle after the catch.

All he can do at that point is watch. It is time for others to step up…and make Charlie look great.

4. A Secondary Concern
The Tiger defense is only giving up just over 203 yards per game through the air, which in itself is a pretty good statistic. But the Clemson secondary has given up some big plays at the most inopportune times. Wake's 80 yards touchdown throw and all 4 of Georgia Tech's touchdowns had good coverage but the completions happened anyway. And they were all crucial to the flow of their games.

So how do you prevent those big plays from continuing to happen? You have to start with making the other plays. There have been several dropped interceptions by Justin Miller and Tye Hill. If those plays are made, then the big plays might not have ever taken place.

Texas A&M will look to throw to a true freshman (not another Calvin Johnson, please!) in Kerry Franks who had 5 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown versus Wyoming last week. "Kerry has great speed, but also the ability to learn, and adjust and handle different situations, coverage changes and assignments." Head Coach Dennis Franchione said. "I think we found a pretty good receiver right now."

Add preseason Big 12 wide receiver Terrence Murphy into the mix, and you get the feeling that the secondary will be challenged this week. That being said, this secondary is talented enough to make some big plays. Plays that change the face of the game. It is defiantly time for this secondary to start playing to its potential, and maybe this is the breakout week for the Tigers.

5. Big Play Special
After a great week of special teams play and coverage against Wake Forest, a dramatic step backwards happened against Georgia Tech. Clemson's return game was almost non-existent against the Yellow Jackets. Of the 4 punts that Tech booted to Clemson, the Tigers were only able to manage 4 return yards. Tech received 4 punts from Clemson, and the Yellow Jackets had 43 yards on returns.

Tech only returned two kickoffs all night, but both of them were killers that averaged 23 yards a return. And that number is misleading because both kickoff returns by the Yellow Jackets gave them field position on Clemson's side of the field.

And the Tigers, of course, missed a field goal and had a botched snap on a punt. If you are going to go on the road and win a game, you have to make some plays in the special team's area. Georgia Tech made the big plays last week on special teams much the same as Clemson did in week 1 versus Wake Forest. The Tigers are going to need to repeat that Wake Forest performance on Saturday if there is hope of leaving College Station with a win.

Analysis and Prediction
This game offers a unique opportunity to play a foreign team in an environment that many of these players will never see in-person again. Clemson spent so much time, sweat, and preparation in getting ready for Wake Forest that along the way the Tigers ended up stubbing their toe against Georgia Tech.

I think the loss to Tech served as a hard lesson for the players and the coaches as to what it was like to be on the losing side of a game. It had been since the first week of November since Clemson had lost, and I think the fear of losing evaded this team last week. They did not fear losing because they forgot what it felt like.

So it will be interesting to see how Clemson rebounds emotionally. It appears as though the Tigers have regrouped nicely with a quiet focus this week. But until the ball is kicked off you never really know.

The ball is certainly in Clemson's corner, as the Tigers are the better and more experienced team. A&M will have to play a very good football game and win the turnover battle if they are going to beat Clemson. Can it happen? You better believe it.

But I think the reality is that Clemson will rebound, come out swinging, and snare a win from the Aggies. It won't be easy, because Kyle Field is a major challenge, but it will amount to win #2.

Clemson 34 Texas A&M 28

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