HOWDYYY. Lots of great stuff coming at you today. Let’s open it up with some back-and-forth with our pals over at Shakin’ the Southland, the SB Nation Clemson blog. Big thanks to Ryan Kantor for all the Q&As that we’ve done with them over the past couple of years.
Good Bull Hunting: Everyone’s heard of the Clemson offensive superstars: Lawrence, Etienne, Ross, Higgins...who are some of the more unheralded key players on the offense to look for?
Shakin’ the Southland: At WR, Diondre Overton (#14) in the slot is finally getting his chance to start. He’s not a natural slot receiver (he’s 6’4”), but he’s taking advantage of an opportunity while WR Amari Rodgers (#3) is out. Rodgers, tore his ACL during the offseason. Normally, you’d expect him back late in the year, if he were to return this season at all. Surprisingly, he could be back sooner than later. There’s an off-chance he could play in this game.
The other name to watch is Lyn-J Dixon (#23). He averaged over 8.8 YPC in mop up duty last year, but is now being used in more meaningful situations as the number-two RB. He averaged 8.0 YPC against GT and could form quite the duo with Travis Etienne if Clemson leans more heavily on the run more this year with such an experienced offensive line to run behind.
GBH: Trevor Lawrence had a bit of a shaky outing numbers-wise against Georgia Tech. Is there any concern among Clemson fans that he might be off to a little bit of a slow start in 2019?
STS: This is a fair assessment, but I think it is a sample size a playbook issue. That’s to say he had about 10 good to excellent games last season and improved as the season went on. Rational fans won’t panic after one off-night in an otherwise dominant offensive performance. With Texas A&M the following week, it also seemed the playbook was a little vanilla (by design) and that may have had some impact as well.
GBH: How does this year’s Clemson defense stack up to last year with so many losses on the defensive line?
STS: The Tigers finished #1 in the country in scoring defense last season, allowing just 13.1 points per game. Matching that will be extremely tough. Clemson only returns one starter in the front seven (LB Isaiah Simmons). The defense will regress, but it might not be a huge regression. New weakside linebacker Chad Smith looked great against Georgia Tech, as did freshman DT Tyler Davis. The linebacking corps is thin, but not lacking talent. The D-line won’t be as dominant, but it should be above average.
There’s more depth at cornerback this year. Both safeties and both reserve safeties return as well, so the secondary should be much better, and offset much of the losses up front. Kellen Mond will surely test that assertion on Saturday, but I expect the defense to be only slightly worse than last year – though the strengths and weaknesses of it may be completely flipped.
GBH: Who is this year’s leader on the defensive side of the ball, and what can we expect from him?
STS: Not being in the locker room, it’s hard to say who the outspoken leader is, but LB Isaiah Simmons is a likely NFL draft pick who may be the star of the defense. He has the speed to stay on the field in nickel situations and the size and strength (6’4”, 230 lbs) to be a true linebacker.
GBH: What are three must-see things for visiting A&M fans?
STS: As you may know, Clemson was formerly Clemson A&M and has a rich military history, much like you all. I recommend walking over to Tillman Hall (which should be fairly easy to punch into Google Maps). There you can see the signature campus building (Tillman Hall) and the military statues, medals, and cannon that surround it. You’ll also see Bowman Field – where cadets used to march – from there.
The tailgating is quite the scene. On the West end zone side of the stadium (opposite the main entrance/hill) is the most impressive lot where the larger donors put on quite the show. If you’re looking for a bite to eat and don’t have a tailgate to visit, Paws Dinner outside campus and the Esso Club right by campus offer classic Clemson spots. The Smoking Pig (BBQ Pork, don’t get brisket, TX dominates in that sphere) is my favorite, but it logistically a little tricky and can have a longer wait. For a under-the-radar bite and beer, I’ve found a little known spot called Amici, that’s connected to an apartment complex, but is good and offers a great value and often little to no wait even on game days (hope I didn’t just blow my secret spot).
Finally, as you stroll into the stadium, you may be able to catch the band parade as they head down a big hill towards the main entrance. That’s always a cool scene as it really captures the pageantry of college football. It generally happens 90 minutes before game time. Aggie fans were fantastic when I visited last season. It was a first-class experience and I hope yours is just as good.