Three Keys to Victory
3. Win the Special Teams Battle
In a game that will probably be close, a big special teams play or two could be the difference-maker, and this series has featured quite of few of them in recent years. Clemson's bad snap on a punt in 2010 followed by a Stephen Garcia-to-Patrick Dimarco TD toss turned momentum in our direction in that year's game, while Clemson's punt block in 2007 ended up being one of the difference makers in Clemson's close win that year. What will the big play be this year? Some things playing in Carolina's favor include Clemson's struggles on kickoff coverage and Ace Sanders's skills in the punt return game.
2. Tackle in Space
USC's defensive front should be able to get an excellent push against the Clemson offensive line, particularly if Jadeveon Clowney is really close to being 100% again. Clowney has saved his best work for these kinds of games in the past, and if he's healthy, I expect for him to have a very active game tomorrow night. Clemson, though, has had a lot of success masking its line issue with short passes to its talented wide outs. Carolina can negate these plays with solid tackling in the open field by the back seven. However, this has been a sore spot for Carolina at times this season. We tackled very well against Georgia, but against ECU, Tenn., and early on against Arkansas, we struggled in this regard. If we continue having such problems against Clemson, they'll probably move the ball at will against us. If we do a decent job, it should force Clemson into some long-yardage situations where Tajh Boyd will have to drop back and look to throw down field, and that should open things up for our pass rush.
1. Establish the Run
I've said that I think Connor Shaw is the key to our offensive success in this game, and I still believe that he's going to play a big role. There should be plenty of chances for Shaw to make plays down field against Clemson's porous secondary. That said, as usual, establishing the run has to be the priority for Carolina. We're a grind-it-out team that plays our best football when the running game is clicking. Moreover, we need the offense to serve as an extension of the defense by staying on the field and keeping the Clemson offense off the field. Up-tempo offenses tend to have plenty of success if they can settle into dictating the rhythm of the game, but they struggle when forced off their tempo. Carolina's offense can help the defense by mounting lengthy drives, keeping Clemson off its tempo, and keeping our defense fresh.
The CU offense may prove me wrong, and I'll be the first to eat crow if so, but I really think that we should be able to slow them down a little bit. Not shut them down, mind you, but I'll be surprised if Clemson scores more than 30 or so points against us, unless of course we gift wrap a few scores like we did against Florida. Don't forget that Georgia appeared to have an unstoppable offense when we played them, too. We have a good defense--not flawless, by any means, but good. What I'm not sure of is whether or not we're going to be up for scoring more than Clemson's 30 or so. Without Marcus Lattimore, with Shaw's road woes, and with our struggles on the offensive line, Carolina has a lot of questions on offense going into a game where it's going to need a solid offensive performance to win. If some of those things click tomorrow, I could see us winning this game relatively convincingly, but as it is, I'm going to predict a close win--Carolina breaks a late tie with an Adam Yates FG for a 34-31 win. Go 'Cocks!