We know the Gamecocks are going bowling in December, but can they garner one major achievement before then? A state championship is up for grabs. In the words of Head Coach Will Muschamp: WIN THE STATE.
Let’s see how we can get it done.
Three Keys to the Game
- Force a one dimensional Tiger offense. Deshaun Watson ranks 10th in the nation with close to 3,300 passing yards this season. The Tiger’s running attack, however, has dipped near the bottom half of the FBS in rushing. The Clemson offense averages just over 165 yards per game on the ground. While, yes that’s still better than South Carolina’s 140 average, it’s nowhere near where the Tigers where last season with an 223 rushing ypg average. Look for Clemson to try to create some momentum on the ground early with a healthy Wayne Gallman. If the Gamecocks can stuff it early and often, it’ll force the Clemson offensive coaches to call a more pass heavy attack, ultimately narrowing South Carolina’s defensive focus, possibly allowing Darius English and the Gamecocks d-line to be more aggressive when pursuing Watson.
- Play takeaway. Keep bending. Will Muschamp’s first year South Carolina defense has defined the bend, but don’t break style more than any defense I’ve closely watched in recent years. The Gamecocks’ defense gives up over 375 yards per game to opposing offenses, but allows just 18 points on average. I fully expect Watson to be able to move the Tigers’ offense up and down the field Saturday night. How those drives end though, will go along way in deciding the game’s outcome. Will South Carolina’s defense give up touchdowns in the red zone or will Jamarcus King, Chris Lammons and company create some more timely interceptions and slow down the Clemson receivers just enough to force field goals? Clemson ranks 106th in the nation with 22 turnovers this year. Three or four more Saturday and they might find themselves on the wrong end of joyous upset.
- Game of their life. I won’t harp on the Gamecocks offensive line struggles too much here, so let’s look at the positive. For the first time in a long time this season, the Gamecocks o-line was able to dominate it’s opposition last week, albeit against the FCS Catamounts, en route to running back Rico Dowdle’s historic 226 yard day. It was a nice sight to see. Saturday, they’ll need to play the collective game of the season. In an ideal situation, the group limits the mental mistakes and avoidable penalties, provides the neccessary gaps for Dowdle and A.J. Turner to attack and the needed push for David Williams in short yardage plays. They limit Christain Wilkins and Dexter Lawerence’s time in the backfield and make 17 year-old Jake Bentley feel as comfortable as humanely possible in front of 80 thousand howling fans. When grading the Gamecocks performance after this game, if we’re able to give the offensive line an A or a B, we might be living in our upset fantasy.
Is Clemson really 24 points better than South Carolina? My prediction: the Gamecocks easily cover that spread and this game is undecided entering the fourth quarter.
My hope: Jake Bentley is signing his name on that Death Valley field.
South Carolina 26 - Clemson 23