It’s finally here, folks. A week’s worth of build up and trash talk and hype videos comes to an end at 7:30 tonight in Williams-Brice Stadium as the South Carolina Gamecocks take on the Clemson Tigers. The upset-minded Gamecocks have their work cut out for them, so here a few keys if they want to succeed.
Get off to a good start. This has been key in several games this season, but it’s no less important against the Tigers. South Carolina has made an unfortunate trend out of struggling in the first quarter, and it simply can’t afford to waste early possessions and dig itself a huge hole. Quarterback Jake Bentley needs to be zen from the opening kickoff, and the receivers need to be on the same page with him. It’s one thing to be sleepy against Wofford, or even an offensively-challenged Florida team. That margin of error doesn’t exist against Clemson.
Establish the run. While Bentley must turn in a good performance regardless, the running game can go a long way toward helping him if it actually exists. South Carolina’s rushing attack has been sporadic and hard to rely on, and it’ll certainly be tough sledding against Clemson’s defensive front. Finding ways to get A.J. Turner on the edge and in space will be critically important if the Gamecocks don’t want to become one-dimensional and predictable. This one could be over early if South Carolina gives up on the ground game.
Come out ahead in the turnover margin. This is pretty much the standard ingredient in any upset, but it’s one for a reason. While Clemson’s defense has generated surprisingly little in the way of turnovers, so has its offense. The Gamecocks have been very opportunistic this season, and although he’s a dynamic runner, Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant is not Deshaun Watson. If South Carolina can pressure Bryant and get him uncomfortable, opportunities could be there for the taking.
A wish list
I’m going off the beaten path a bit here, partially because I’ve already made a prediction in our staff roundtable and partially because this game is special, so why not do something a little different? These are just a few of the things I’d love to see tonight (aside from a #CocksBy90 type of blowout).
Skai Moore’s school record-breaking 15th interception. Bonus points if it also happens to be a pick six. Bonus bonus points if it happens to be a pick six that seals a Gamecock victory. In his five years at USC, Moore has experienced some pretty dramatic ups-and-downs with both his injury and the program’s trajectory, and he’s been a rock throughout all of it. I’m a sentimental person, so I’d really love to see him go out with a bang and notch this accomplishment on such a big stage. He can also become one of only 14 college football players to lead his team in tackles all four years of his career. I’m gonna miss this guy.
Parker White makes a clutch field goal. Bonus points if it’s from 40-plus yards. Bonus bonus points if it’s a game-winner. White, along with the rest of South Carolina’s field goal unit, has had an...adventurous season. That said, White has not been without his moments: He made a couple of tough, important field goals against Tennessee and the game-winner against Louisiana Tech, and his touchback game is really strong as well. For the most part, though, South Carolina’s field goal attempts have been a steady source of confusion and frustration. If the Gamecocks have to turn to White, it’d be fun to see him find some redemption in this particular game.
Jake Bentley has the game of his life. It’s been said a billion times to this point, but if South Carolina wants to win, a lot of that rests upon Bentley’s shoulders. He’s been good this season, but he hasn’t taken that huge leap forward a lot of fans thought he would. I want to see Bentley go off for two reasons: 1) because it’d be incredible if he put it all together this week, and 2) because Bentley is one of the most hyped players on the field at any given time, and I want to see him lose his mind. The kind of guy who’s hootin’ and hollerin’ after a rushing touchdown against Wofford would be an absolute gift to behold after a titanic upset of the Tigers.
What would y’all like to see?