In two years with Johnny Manziel, no SEC team accumulated more yards than Texas A&M. In three years with Jadeveon Clowney, no SEC team forced more turnovers than South Carolina. With both stars having left for the NFL, both sides have a lot of questions to answer this season, starting in tonight’s season opener in Columbia (6 ET on SEC Network).
Texas A&M’s Offense: Life after Manziel
A youth movement is underway in College Station, as the Aggies replace three first-round draft picks: Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. But through Kevin Sumlin’s recruiting and offensive track record, Texas A&M’s offense should remain very talented and dangerous.
Freshman/Sophomore QB w/ Sumlin
As Offensive Coordinator/Head Coach
Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill was just a three-star recruit, but so was the man he is replacing, Manziel. In very limited time last season, Hill was effective, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown in parts of four games. He also offers mobility, rushing for 37 yards on six carries.
Hill will be surrounded by young talent in the skill positions and experience up front. In the last three recruiting classes, Texas A&M signed 10 offensive players ranked in the top 100 of the ESPN 300. Only Alabama signed more players in that span.
And despite losing back-to-back top-six draft picks at offensive tackle, the Aggies return four offensive line starters, including tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who is the second-ranked player on Mel Kiper’s 2015 Big Board.
But Aggies fans' best reason for optimism is Sumlin’s offensive track record. Since he took the Houston job in 2008, his teams have finished in the top 11 in total offense every season. Including his career as Oklahoma offensive coordinator, he has started five freshmen or sophomores at quarterback, and three finished in the top seven in QBR in FBS.
South Carolina’s Defense: Life after Clowney
Just as Texas A&M loses the face of its offense, South Carolina’s defense loses its most well-known star in Clowney. The top pick in the NFL draft was not as productive last season, recording just three sacks. But a closer look at the numbers shows the impact he and the rest of the defensive line had, and how it may be difficult for South Carolina to replace.
Clowney said last offseason that opposing quarterbacks were scared of him, and the numbers support that. South Carolina’s defense allowed an SEC-low 21.9 QBR, largely due to forcing 30 turnovers. Quarterbacks also averaged just 6.2 air yards per pass attempt against the Gamecocks, shortest among Power 5 conference teams.
However, despite Clowney’s presence, South Carolina’s defense has actually trended down. Each of the past two seasons, it has allowed more yards per game and per play than the year prior. Last year, the Gamecocks allowed 5.5 yards per play, ninth in the SEC.
For South Carolina to not fall off without Clowney and company, it must prove that it can either continue to force turnovers at a similar rate or that it can slow offenses down without them.