Swinney was in his second year as a wide receivers coach when the Tigers were bludgeoned by the Aggies 27-6 in 2004.
“That was a butt-whipping we took out there — we got destroyed,” Swinney said. “I remember it all too well. But it was a great experience to see that venue. It was an incredible game-day environment. Hopefully this time we can do a little better than we did 14 years ago.”
Swinney will find out Saturday night when his No. 2-ranked Tigers visit Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, once again to challenge a Texas A&M team that is hoping to take another step toward prominence under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher.
Swinney and Fisher, who was head coach at Florida State the previous eight seasons, will be facing off for a ninth consecutive year. When Fisher was coaching the Seminoles, the teams split their eight meetings, but Clemson won each of the last three.
“It was kind of ironic, when I accepted the job, looked down (at the schedule) — ‘you’ve got to be kidding,’ ” Fisher said. “I said, ‘Really?’ It’s ironic, because whoever won that game for so many years won the conference. Every year that was a critical game. I guess it’s kind of ironic; I guess it’s fitting.”
Both teams are 1-0 after opening the season last week with resounding victories against FCS opponents. Clemson dispatched Furman 48-7 while the Aggies rolled past Northwestern State 59-7.
Clemson will be the highest-ranked non-conference opponent ever to play at Kyle Field.
“It’s a great opportunity for everybody to go out there and perform and show what we can do,” said Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams, who rushed for 240 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern State.
Williams and the Aggies rushed for 503 yards — the second-highest total in school history — in that game, but yardage will be tougher to come by against a Clemson defense that returned eight starters off last year’s team, including all four starters on its defensive front, each of whom has earned All-America honors of some sort during their career.
“Clemson’s D-line is dynamic,” Fisher said. “They can beat you with power. They beat you with speed. They have good experience. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
As if dealing with a veteran Clemson defense wasn’t challenging enough, the Aggies must also deal with an offense loaded with skill and depth. The Tigers’ leading rusher last week was freshman Lin-J Dixon, who’s fourth on the depth chart at running back. Eleven different receivers caught at least one pass last week and two of the team’s three receiving touchdowns came via freshmen.
Then there’s the matter of quarterbacks. Incumbent Kelly Bryant, who guided Clemson to a 12-2 record and a third consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff last season, started the opener and threw for one score and ran for another, but was upstaged by big-armed freshman Trevor Lawrence, who joined Deshaun Watson as the only two quarterbacks in school history to throw three touchdown passes in their first game.
Swinney assured on Tuesday that no one has secured the job long-term and that Bryant and Lawrence will split snaps once again on Saturday.
“As crazy as it sounds, they’re probably more similar than they are different in some ways,” Fisher said. “You say one throws it better than the other, but the other has been very productive at times. Kelly has, in big games, and Trevor’s a very talented guy. They’re both good in all aspects.”
Swinney, meanwhile, has been duly impressed by Texas A&M’s quarterback, Kellen Mond.
“He brings a lot of athleticism and I think Jimbo likes that,” Swinney said. “His ability to throw the ball on the run is very impressive. I think he’s matured and there’s a new staff, a new scheme there and there’s confidence that comes with that.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Jimbo and I’m looking forward to seeing our team going on the road and staying focused and adjusting to adversity in the game, because there’s going to be adversity. That’s fun — win or lose. This is the type of game that I think makes you better. It gives you a chance to grow your team as you go through the season.”