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Paws Up, Paws Down: Analysis of the Texas A&M football game

Jake Ludwig, Staff

Paws Up: Kelly Bryant

It might seem counterintuitive that an unranked team like Texas A&M has a greater chance to rattle their opponent than a highly ranked contender, but it’s true. A battle between two heavyweights is expected to be difficult and is supposed to be a tight game. But, when an unranked team that is going through a major transition is able to trade blows with the number 2 team in the country, the pressure is completely different.

While he will likely never achieve the same level of unanimous support and adoration that his predecessor Deshaun Watson had during his tenure at Clemson, Bryant is taking steps towards a Watson-esque level of maturity and poise, even in highly pressured moments. Bryant threw no interceptions and his passing efficiency rating of 191.3 is the highest of his career against an FBS opponent.

Bryant’s accuracy still leaves something to be desired, and his consistency still has room to grow, but as Texas A&M fought and scrapped to keep themselves in the game, Bryant didn’t blink. Despite the notoriously loud “12th man” Aggie fans, Bryant seemed right at home in the pocket, keeping multiple drives alive and working through his progressions to find his receivers in just the right windows.

In the second half, with the Aggies starting to gain steam, Bryant connected with Hunter Renfrow on a spectacular throw for a 40-yard gain that was placed at the right height and distance to hit Renfrow in stride. Three plays later, Bryant hit Renfrow again for a 10-yard gain, putting the offense in scoring position. Travis Etienne capped off the series with a 1-yard touchdown.

Paws Down: Offensive Play calling

Because of a rainstorm during the game, conditions on the field were less than ideal for offense. The ball was slippery, making it harder for the quarterbacks to throw and the receivers to catch. The ground was loose and muddy, making it difficult for running backs to change directions and for linemen to generate power.

With this in mind, the offense play calling throughout the game was incredibly conservative and afforded the quarterbacks few chances to make plays.

The offense routinely threw bubble screens toward the sidelines that either resulted in a negligible number of yards or a tackle behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of yards.  

To compound the offensive woes, Clemson’s ground game was almost completely neutralized; Clemson finished the game with 32 rush attempts and 115 yards. That number is a little misleading because Travis Etienne had a 28-yard run and Kelly Bryant had a 27-yard run. Without those two explosive plays, the Tigers rushed 30 times for a total of 60 yards. Despite the utter lack of success on the ground, the team kept going back to the run and would attempt rushes on third-and-long downs.

The second half play calling was slightly more aggressive, but the screen passes kept the quarterbacks from developing momentum with their receivers, and the runs would stall drives before they had a chance to develop.

Paws Up: Receiver Playmaking  

With all of the noise around the Tigers about the quarterback battle, the defensive line and the coaching staff, one of the groups that probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the Tigers’ receiving core. Bryant and Trevor Lawrence both threw some incredible passes that resulted in large chunks of yards, but an equal amount of credit has to go the receivers. Lawrence threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins on his first snap of the game. The pass was precise, and Higgins made an incredible leaping catch in traffic, then reversed his body and spun in the direction opposite his momentum, and outran the remaining safety on his way to the end zone.

Higgins wasn’t alone in his spectacular receiving efforts; Amari Rodgers had a 64-yard catch of his own, and Hunter Renfrow provided his own 40-yard grab.

Having quarterbacks who can consistently squeeze the ball into tight windows of traffic makes an offense dangerous. Having receivers who, at anytime, anywhere on the field, can take that pass the length of the field themselves makes an offense lethal.  

Paws Down: Defensive Secondary

It’s going to be a tough week at practice for the secondary this week. The Clemson defense gave up 501 yards overall, the most total yards given up by the defense since a 2016 matchup with eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, with 430 of those yards coming through the air.

The vaunted defensive line struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterback Kellen Mond, giving him ample time to pick apart our porous pass coverage. Strong-side linebacker (SLB) Isaiah Simmons led the team in tackles, but only because he was frequently out of position and his man was the beneficiary of open passes over the middle of the field.

Simmons was certainly not alone in his poor performance, as nearly every member of the secondary was taken advantage of at one point or another. There is still plenty of time for the defensive backs to develop, but the Tigers will have a glaring weakness in their scheme until they do.

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