This is how Clemson pays tribute to its father institution, Auburn University. They also pay tribute to LSU by nicknaming their stadium Death Valley. This afternoon, they pay tribute to our defense by losing.
Here we are: the big game against our in-state rivals. The season sure did blow by, didn't it? I've already talked about how much this game means to these two teams, so let's get down to business. These are the three things that need to happen for us to beat the Tigers.
Establish the Run
With rain and poor field conditions likely, we're not going to be able to rely on the pass as much as we usually do. Moreover, you have to think that Steve Spurrier would like to take some of the pressure off mistake-prone Chris Smelley. That means that Mike Davis, Bobby Wallace, Brian Maddox, Stephen Garcia if he plays, and the big guys making the push up front need to pick up some of the slack. Our running game's performance over the course of the season doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but Clemson's questionable defensive front has been horrible this year. To make matters worse for the Tigers, talented DE Ricky Sapp went down with a knee injury against Virginia last week. Even when healthier, the Tigers have given up several big rushing games to their opponents this year. Granted, some of the teams that have had success running the ball against Clemson are teams like Alabama and Florida State that have significantly better running backs and offensive lines than us. Still, I think we have a puncher's chance to taking it to Clemson on the ground. If we can do that, we could score 30+ and run away with the game unless we give up lots of turnovers or special teams scores.
Smart Play from Chris Smelley
If we can run the ball decently, we won't need Smelley to throw for 300 yards to score enough points to win this game. However, he can't kill us by throwing any interceptions, especially deep in our territory. Although I criticized Spurrier earlier in the year for not opening up the playbook with Smelley under center, in this game I really almost want to say that I think we should play it very safe and stick to safe plays like hitch patterns to Kenny McKinley, screen passes to Davis, crossing patterns over the middle to Jared Cook and Weslye Saunders and the like. This is a game our defense can win for us as long as we don't give away too many turnovers. I'm sure we'll have to throw the ball down the field at some point, though, and I hope and pray that Chris will avoid making bad decisions when we do. One thing that works in our favor is that Clemson doesn't have much of a pass rush, especially now that Sapp, their most likely defender to get into the backfield, is out. Like most QBs, Smelley isn't quite such a poor decision maker when he has lots of time, which will hopefully be the case today.
Contain CJ Spiller
James Davis and Cullen Harper are good players, but Spiller is the one that really scares me. Davis, a between the tackles kind of guy, has had trouble over the course of the season because his line isn't getting as much of a push as Clemson would like. Harper and the receivers are very solid, but I expect we'll put a lot of pressure on Harper and limit the effectiveness of Clemson's downfield passing game. In general, I think we will play very well defensively against these dimensions of Clemson's offense. Spiller, however, remains dangerous even without a solid offensive line because of his breakaway speed. The Tigers will try to get Spiller the ball in space by running sweeps and passing him the ball on screen plays, and if our defense doesn't play smart, Spiller could make a couple of big plays and really hurt us. We can't let that happen.
Surprising, Ron Morris predicts a 42-6 Carolina victory. I wish I believed him. If we do the three things listed above very well, I think it would be possible for us to win by that kind of margin. However, while I think we'll be successful, we probably won't be 42-6 successful. CJ Spiller will probably have one long run, Smelley will probably throw an interception at some point, we probably won't run for 200 yards. However, if we can run it a little, keep from giving up more than two turnovers (and get a couple of takeaways of our own), and keep Spiller from going nuts, I think we will win this game. My prediction: 27-17 Gamecocks.