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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football (copy)

CLEMSON — One of the biggest nonconference games of the season is set to take place Saturday as the No. 1 Clemson Tigers take on the No. 12/11 Texas A&M Aggies inside Death Valley (3:30 p.m., ABC).

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Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney entered the year already ranked atop league history in winning percentage in all games (including nonconference and postseason play), a mark he pushed to .796 last week. The winningest coach in ACC history by percentage turns his attention to another conference against which he's enjoyed immense success in recent years. Swinney's squads have won eight of their last nine meetings against SEC competition since the start of the 2016 season.

However, his 10th game against an SEC team will prove to be one of his most difficult tests yet.

When Clemson has the ball

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  • Travis Etienne (RB): Etienne was named national player of the week for his dominant performance in the Tigers’ 52-14 win over Georgia Tech, as he gashed the Yellow Jackets for 205 yards on only 12 carries.

The 205 yards represented the 17th 200-yard game in school history, and his 12 carries represented the fewest rushing attempts in the midst of a 200-yard rushing performance in program history.

He had eight carries for 44 yards and a touchdown, as well as three receptions for 23 yards, in 32 snaps as a starter in 2018.

  • Justyn Ross (WR): The Tiger sophomore was held mostly quiet in last week's game. Whether it was the game plan that did not allow the Tigers to take many deep shots, or a great Yellow Jacket game plan, the Tigers will need Ross to play a big role in their game against the Aggies.

The Aggies boast one of the best secondaries the Tigers will face this season, and Clemson needs the Ross that showed up in the final two games of 2019 to show up this week.

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Ross can affect the game in a much larger way than he did last season, as he played only one snap in the Tigers’ game at College Station.

  • Miles Jones (DB; Texas A&M): The talented junior is one of the long, lanky and extremely talented cornerbacks that the Tigers must deal with.

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Jones, 6-foot-4, had two interceptions in the Aggies’ opening game win over Texas State after amassing a team-high nine pass breakups last season and a team-high eight pass breakups to go along with a single interception in his freshman season.

When Texas A&M has the ball

  • The secondary: Last season, the Tigers' secondary was torched for 430 yards — including 330 yards in the second half. This season they will have a chance to redeem themselves.

According to Swinney and Venables, the issues that plagued them in last season’s game were mental things that they have corrected. And if the rest of the 2018 season was an indicator, one would have to think that was the case.

With the exception of giving up 500-plus yards to South Carolina, the secondary appeared to get their act together. But this week will be a massive test for a group that Swinney has boasted all preseason may be "one of his best ever."

  • Kellen Mond: The architect of the 430 yards that left the secondary reeling is back for another shot at the Tigers.

Mond needs one victory to move into the top 10 (tie) on the Aggies’ list of winningest starting QBs. Mond needs 324 passing yards to become the ninth Aggie QB to reach the 5,000-yard mark in career passing.

He needs five passing touchdowns to become the eighth Aggie to reach 40 passing scores.

Last week, Mond completed 19-of-27 passes for 194 yards and 4 touchdowns (1 rush).

Preview

Clemson currently trails its all-time series against Texas A&M, 2-3, but won the programs' two most recent meetings in 2005 and 2018. The 2018-19 home-and-home series between Clemson and Texas A&M represents the third such home-and-home arrangement between the two schools.

However, while Clemson has represented the Atlantic Coast Conference in each contest, Texas A&M has represented a different conference in all three sets of home-and-home series. The Aggies swept the Tigers as members of the Southwest Conference in 1973-74, and the two teams split a pair of games in 2004-05 during Texas A&M's membership in the Big 12 Conference. Last year's contest was the teams' first meeting since Texas A&M's transition to the Southeastern Conference in 2012.

Swinney's squads have won eight of their last nine meetings against SEC competition since the start of the 2016 season, and — even though they may not cover the 17.5-point spread — the Tigers continue their impressive run of success against the SEC.

Prediction

Clemson 34, Texas A&M 20

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io

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