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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M outfielder Jace Laviolette (17) robs a home run from Florida infielder Cade Kurland (4) in the top of the ninth inning during Texas A&M’s game against Florida at the NCAA Men’s College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday, June 15, 2024. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)
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Containing Clemson

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Photo by Photo by Jesse Everett

Texas A&M held Northwestern State scoreless in the first half.

The Aggies are coming off a dominant defensive performance in their season opener against Northwestern State, but they will face a much bigger test on Saturday night when No. 2 Clemson comes to town.
A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko has history with the Tigers. Elko faced off against Clemson three times while coaching at Wake Forest, and Swinney knows how dangerous an Elko-coached defense can be.
“[Elko] came from Wake Forest and I was really, really happy when he left and went to Notre Dame because he was one of the best that we saw year in and year out,” Swinney said. “I’m very impressed schematically with what they do.”
A&M could face two talented quarterbacks this weekend. Both Kelly Bryant, who led Clemson to the playoffs last season, and Trevor Lawrence, a freshman with dual threat abilities, may see time on the field.
“Everyone says that Lawrence can throw the ball, which he does, but the guy can run. The guy’s an athlete,” Fisher said. “Kelly Bryant, you’re talking about a guy that went to the playoffs, won big games, and who’s won an ACC championship. He can run and throw it too.”
The Aggie defensive line will have a tough job on Saturday night as they look to contain and put pressure on both quarterbacks. Sophomore running back Travis Etienne, who ran for 766 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman, will also be a threat from the backfield. Despite the skeptics, senior defensive end Kingsley Keke is confident in his squad’s ability to compete.
“I don’t know what they are saying out there right now,” Keke said. “I just know my team is going to be ready to play.”
In the season opener, A&M allowed only 1.6 yards per carry and Northwestern State only converted one of their 12 third down chances. Seniors Landis Durham and Keke at defensive end, along with senior Daylon Mack and sophomore Justin Madubuike on the inside, are a tough group for any offensive line to handle, and Swinney knows what the Tigers are up against.
“They’ve got some big dudes up front,” Swinney said. “That No. 34 [Daylon Mack], he’s an earth mover. [Kingsley Keke] is a very good player. [Landis Durham] led the SEC in sacks last year. Very talented. They got a lot of guys back on defense that started at different times last year.”
Depth has been a problem at linebacker for Elko’s defense to start this season, but Fisher said he expects sophomore Anthony Hines to return to the field this weekend for the big game. Injuries have forced young players to step up and others to play out of their natural position, and junior Tyrel Dodson has taken notice.
“The young guys have stepped up just knowing what to do and knowing where to be at the right time,” Dodson said. “It’s been very helpful, with Buddy Johnson hopping in and Larry [Pryor] coming out from safety. He plays everything.”
Linebackers are asked to do a lot in Elko’s defense. They must be active not only in defending the run but also the pass. The group was key in allowing just 251 total yards last Thursday. With a win under their belts, Dodson believes this week’s defensive calls will not be quite as vanilla.
“We’re going to mix some things up and give Clemson some things that they’ve probably never seen,” Dodson said. “It’s going to be fun.”
The Aggies gave up one big play in last week’s game, a 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown after redshirt junior defensive back Roney Elam lost his footing in coverage. A&M can’t afford slip ups like this against Clemson, which has talent at wide receiver and two quarterbacks that can make teams pay for any mistake. Even so, Swinney is well aware of this secondary’s capabilities, led by senior Donovan Wilson.
“I think their safeties are as good as we’re probably going to see,” Swinney said. “I’d say all four of their starters in the secondary are probably going to play in the NFL. It’s pretty easy to see that. They’ve got size and length.”
The maroon and white are confident heading into one of the biggest home games in recent memory. The defense knows what it’s up against in the Clemson offense, but the Aggies believe they can get the job done.
“They have really good wide receivers and a really good offensive line,” Dodson said. “Everything is good about them. They’re very fast and have a good quarterbacks that can run and throw the ball. We also have a good defense, so it’s going to be fun.”

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