What to Look for, CU/USC

thanks to ajc.com

Clemson Tigers versus South Carolina Gamecocks

Time:  12:00 NOON 

TV Coverage:  ESPN 

Radio Coverage:  WCCP (www.wccpfm.com

Location:  Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC

CUAD Notes         ESPN Preview           Rivals Preview

The Palmetto Rivalry is right here, as the 8-3 Clemson Tigers (15 AP, 18 BCS, and 16 USA Today) travel to the 6-5 South Carolina Gamecocks.  This game is for pride only, as Clemson has secured its spot as the ACC Atlantic Division representative and the Cocks are bowl eligible.  Clemson looks to extend its series win streak to 3 games, while South Carolina looks for its 2nd win against Clemson at the Brice in 22 years.  We will be watching quite a few areas of this football game from both teams. 

First and foremost will be the level of enthusiasm displayed by the Tigers.  With the Atlantic Division crown wrapped up, this game really means nothing in the grand scheme of things other than bragging rights for yet another year.  Will the Tigers come out fired up and ready to play, or will they be looking forward to next week's contest with GT in Tampa?  Swinney and crew have been successful getting this team ready to play each week, and Swinney (an Alabama boy) understands the importance of a rivalry game.  Consequently, I do not think complacency will be an issue.

Special teams is always on the list, and will play into this football game.  Clemson has had trouble kicking field goals the past 3 weeks, so I really hope this game is not close coming down the stretch.  Richard Jackson looked much better last week against UVa than he did against FSU, so that is a little more assuring.  Switching gears, SC's kick coverage team has been less than impressive all season.  Consequently, look for the Cocks to kick away from both C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford.  This decision takes the ball out ofeach of Clemson's dynamic return man's hands, yet should give the Tigers excellent field position all afternoon.

Running games.  This is where the tempo and overall strategy of the game will be set.  South Carolina has struggled to maintain a consistent rushing attack all season, putting more pressure of SO QB Stephen Garciaand a less than impressive offensive line.  South Carolina needs the threat of a running game to neutralize Clemson's excellent pass rush and keep the defense honest.  If Carolina cannot run the ball, the Gamecocks' offense is in a tough position as they face one of the best passing defenses in the nation.  Clemson, on the other hand, needs to take advantage of a glaring weakness in this SC defense, the interior area.  SC lacks quality depth at the both the DT and ILB positions.  If Clemson can get an inside running game going early, it could get ugly quickly.  Clemson must stay committed to running the ball between the tackles to wear out this defense.  I am not big on getting too far outside of the tackles, as USC does have pretty good team speed on defense, and there is really no need in getting outside at the first level against these guys.

Turnovers.  Clemson has been good at creating these this season, and South Carolina has committed devastating mistakes at critical moments in football games.  South Carolina will not be able to hang with the Tigers if they go out and beat themselves with turnovers.  Clemson, on the other hand, has been getting progressively better at eliminating mistakes.  Freshman Kyle Parkerhas matured over the season and is now playing with confidence and as a leader.  Clemson should win the turnover battle, and could break the Gamecocks' spirits with a +2 or more turnover margin.

Offensive Line Play.  Clemson has improved greatly over the course of this season, and can now at least create some holes for the backs and give QB Kyle Parker time to throw the ball.  Clemson has benefited from Danny Pearman helping with the tackles and tight ends.  Splitting Mason Cloy's time between guard and center has allowed the Tigers to rest Austin/McClain and move David Smith to tackle (which is a gift and allows Pearman to keep Corey Lambert off the field).  Thus, while Clemson's offensive line is not the best in school history, it is much improved over last season.  South Carolina's offensive line has seen some improvements over last season, even though the statistics show otherwise.  South Carolina under John Hunt was nothing less than pitiful.  Eric Wolford has made some improvements, but still has a ways to go (the fact that walk-on Garrett Chisolm wasn't even on the team during camp, and now starts is mind-boggling to me--even after Clemson got Bobby Hutchinson back on the field from his grad assistant role).  SC is still at the bottom of the SEC statistical list in rushing statistics and has given up 33 sacks.

Clemson's defense should be excited about this contest.  Clemson has tallied 33 sacks to this point, with Rickey Sapp leading the effort with 5, and Da'Quan Bowersand Brandon Mayewith 3 each.  I am anticipating a few errant passes by Garcia because of the pressure.  This bodes well for a defense that has already forced 20 ints.  DeAndre McDaniel leads this group with 8 picks on the year, followed by Rashard Hall who has 5. 

South Carolina will need to execute timing and 3-step drop routes in order to have success offensively.  Clemson's man/man-press coverage should challenge some of these timing routes.  However, I am a bit concerned with the size advantage that USC has with Gurley/Jeffrey.  I fully expect some jump balls to Jeffrey.  I also expect to see some deception similar to the reverses and direct snaps we saw against Virginia last week.

I want to see better play out of Brandon Maye this week.  There is no doubt that Maye is a talented player, with excellent speed and power.  However, we have seen Maye commit several key penalties (the personal foul last week was unnecessary and extended a UVa drive and helped NCST at times the week before).  Brandon has to take better angles to the football and keep himself in plays by getting in better position.  All of these items are correctable...this guy has a motor that constantly runs and has made some nice, intense plays this season, but is his own worst enemy.

Clemson has won 9 of the last 10 at the Brice, and has had 3 out of 4 against Steven Orr.  I expect this game to fall in the same direction as 9 of the last 10 have, but expect it to be a little closer than most of the Tiger faithful would like.  Look for USC to throw out all the stops early, as this is a big game for the Cocks.  Losing the balance of the November games yet again and finishing 6-6 would be deflating.  I look for a game similar to the Tiger's ACC finale against UVa.  This one will be back and forth to half, with Clemson making the necessary adjustments to win this bad boy.  (Remember, it is only year 3).

Here are some stats from the season (courtesy of http://www.cfbstats.com/2009/team/).

Scenario Clemson's Record USC's Record
All Games 8-3 6-5
at Home 5-1 5-1
on Road 2-2 1-4
at Neutral Site 0-0 0-0
on Grass Field 8-3 6-5
on Turf Field 0-0 0-0
vs. Conference 6-2 3-5
vs. Non-Conf 2-1 3-0
vs. Winning 4-2 2-5
vs. Non-Winning 4-1 4-0
vs. Ranked (AP) 1-2 1-2
vs. Unranked (AP) 7-1 5-3
in Aug/Sept 2-2 3-1
in October 3-1 3-2
in November 3-0 0-2
in Dec./Jan. 0-0 0-0

 

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