Three Keys to Victory
3. Take the crowd out early. With a noon kick and the Clemson fans wary of this game due to the streak, there's the potential for Carolina to negate Clemson's home-field advantage if the Gamecocks can get out to a two-score lead early and make the fans start saying, "here we go again." Carolina may also be able to rattle Clemson's coaches, who are eager for a win in this series, into making desperate decisions if it can make them think the game is getting away from them early.
2. Gamecocks defensive front must get penetration. In a battle between two thoroughly mediocre units, South Carolina's defensive line must take advantage of Clemson's weakness at offensive line. This goes for whether Cole Stoudt or Deshaun Watson is the quarterback for CU; if it's Stoudt, Carolina gains a major advantage by stopping the run and then being able to rattle the turnover-prone Stoudt once CU is forced to throw, and if it's Watson, any chance the Gamecocks have to slow down the talented young CU quarterback is dependent on creating favorable down-distance situations and pressure on passing downs. What's more, with Watson having spent most of the season injured, the chance is there for Carolina to have a huge effect on him mentally if it can lay a few hard hits early in the game. This is a game where Carolina's defensive line could have a breakout game given the poor play of CU's offensive line, but Carolina's defensive line has struggled, too, so nothing is assured. Lorenzo Ward needs to be willing to add in some well-timed blitzes to complement the penetration from the line, particularly if the line struggles. What Carolina can't do is give CU's receivers time to do work down field, as receiver is the Tigers' deepest position, and they'll make plays if allowed to do so.
1. Find a way to attack Clemson in the air effectively. Clemson has an excellent defense all around, but if they have a weakness, it's in the secondary, and Carolina's receivers can win matchups down field against CU. The problem? Clemson's defensive front isn't going to give Dylan Thompson clean pockets if Carolina runs a lot of passing plays that take time to develop in predictable situations. Carolina needs to do things like moving the pocket and working the screen game to keep the CU defense on its heels. The Gamecocks also need to find a way to run the ball against a salty CU run defense. One of the keys may be for Dylan to make some well-timed choices to keep the ball on the read option.
This is a very difficult game to call because of the uncertainty regarding Watson. If he plays and isn't too limited, I think CU has an advantage, although not one that USC can't surmount if Spurrier has a good offensive gameplan and the defense continues to improve. If Stoudt plays quarterback, I think USC has a somewhat substantial advantage. Let's go optimistic, split the difference, and say USC wins by a TD, 24-17.