First things first...Scar would like to line up and run the ball. Running the football effectively has helped the Gamecocks win a bunch of games the past 3-4 years so Clemson has to step up and limit their success in this area to win the football game. Scar, like any other offense, can keep any defense off balance if it can run the football.
Running the football opens up so many other things and is simply demoralizing for the opposing defense. It also means that Connor Shaw is not forced to throw the football, and Steve is smart enough to not want that. South Carolina this season has not been immune to running game issues. Obviously, they have to adjust to different personnel playing in their backfield but have been making that adjustment for the better part of a month now. I won't belabor that issue and do believe the guys they will put on the field are perfectly capable running backs. I would commit more resources to this cause and take my chances with Connor Shaw tossing the ball downfield.
To put it simply, we look at SC as Clemson circa 2006, with a faster Proctor, and without Lattimore they may not qualify as even that. We don't respect Shaw's downfield arm. He can hit the 5-15 yard route, but he's more dangerous with his feet.
Stopping the run begins up front. We watch all their games, so we saw how teams beat them. Clemson is clearly not as good as Florida or LSU in this category but improved over the season. South Carolina's offensive line is nothing spectacular and is not as good as years' past. I believe that Clemson must augment defensive line pressure through run blitzes to mitigate Scar's rushing threat just because I am not confident enough in the front four only to limit them to less than 4 ypc. Venables isn't afraid to bring an extra linebacker or two and I suspect we'll see dedication to stop the run. When Scar gets into the I-formation, you almost guarantee a running play. Else, it will be play action...that is just what they do. I want to see Clemson stack the box there and force Connor Shaw to beat Clemson with his arm. We've played 8 or 9 in the box against pro-personnel groups like what this formation entails, and hopefully we'll see that again.
If you look at Scar's passing game and Spurrier's offensive style, you will realize that passing to the receivers in the "Fun ‘n Gun/Cock ‘n Fire" offense "traditionally" relied largely on timing. Also, Carolina's best receivers are drastically undersized. Ideally, Clemson would jam the absolute shit out of these receivers. They are fast and run good routes but lack size and should be easily jammed/worked at the LOS. The combination of the last sentence and the offensive style make jamming the receivers at the LOS an obvious choice. Clemson's problem here is that we simply don't jam receivers. We will play man/press looks, but for some reason refuse to initiate contact at the LOS. We don't even jam receivers in goal line situations, so I don't expect Clemson to listen to this request. Ideally, we would play M2M or some form of a hard 2 if we were to jam.
Normally I would not worry about Scar hitting us up with the long ball. However, after seeing the piss poor play out of our secondary this season (both corners and safeties) we are definitely susceptible to Scar's WR speed. We've also seen our fair share of mental breakdowns out of the Clemson secondary the past couple seasons which have given the opposition big plays. Given the fact that we will give them a free release, I suspect we'll see Clemson play them a little softer to try and avoid the big one. Missouri used their form of the Mustang defense and you saw how that worked out for them...Carolina will dink and dunk the football up and down the field, particularly using their backs and TEs, occasionally hitting up the Clemson defense on stop and comeback routes to the receivers. We miss a tackle and it goes for 20.
If we do choose the less aggressive approach and indeed refuse to jam receivers, the end goal is to keep the receivers in front of us. This strategy places more emphasis on getting pressure on the Carolina quarterback because you simply cannot lay back AND give the opponent all day to throw the ball. Fortunately, Shaw's internal clock gets him anxious if there is not an immediate opening downfield. This results in more passes to the backs/TE closer to the LOS and scrambling outside the pocket. Carolina will complete some of these short routes and Clemson absolutely has to blow them up before they gash us for a 10-15 yard gain. Again, this requires the linebackers to be a little more aggressive and assure they do not miss tackles.
Carolina will use screen passes to limit Shaw's downfield passing and to assure they get the ball into their skill players' hands. Carolina favors the quick WR screens and will use slower developing screens with their backs and possibly the TE. The slower screens involve recognition by the defenders and will be used if we get too aggressive. This is one area that Carolina can use to keep the backers on their heels if we significantly slow down their running game with blitzes. Defending the WR screens is much easier crowding the LOS but again, this is an area that our corners must identify quickly and attack to keep this easy pass from turning into 10 or 15 yards a clip. Again, a more aggressive but disciplined strategy on the perimeter would help mitigate these threats.
Carolina has a couple run/pass option plays (quarterback makes a read at the snap of the football and either hands it off or slings it outside if the receiver/defender relationship is advantageous for the offense). These are no different than the ones Clemson runs on offense and forces the defender to respect the pass threat--ultimately slowing down the corner's run support. Again, those should be identified through film study and more aggressive perimeter play would likely eliminate the quick pass.
We will want to be in a standard 4-3 set in obvious running downs and when Scar is in the I formation. We'll obviously see Travis Blanks in as the nickel in passing downs and if Scar chooses to go with a more spread oriented attack. Clemson has gone to three down linemen looks more and more this season in passing situations and I believe this will continue this week. Putting the extra linebacker in gives our defense a little more speed. It also ensures that there will be at least one linebacker/DB coming on the play. 3-4 looks make it easier to disguise where the pressure will come and could more easily confuse a questionable Scar offensive line.
There are two individuals I am concerned about in this football game from the Carolina offense. These two guys are Connor Shaw and Justice Cunningham. I believe that Clemson can stop/significantly slow down the Scar running backs but could get hurt by Connor Shaw on designed keepers and by improvised carries when pocket protection breaks down in passing situations. His ability to turn lemons into lemonade following deteriorated pocket conditions has helped the Cocks tremendously the past couple years. Shaw doesn't really scare me with his arm but is slicker than owl shit when he gets out of the pocket. Clemson has struggled against running quarterbacks the past couple years and Shaw had a big game on the ground against us last season. Keeping him bottled up will be a challenge for this defense.
Clemson has to do a couple things to rattle this young man. First and foremost, we need to keep him bottled up in the pocket. This entails basic fundamental items that you would expect anytime the team takes the field: contain with the ends, get some pressure inside (through your tackles and possibly a linebacker or two), and assure that actually make the tackle. IF Shaw chooses to run, Clemson must make him pay. If Carolina shows any option looks, we need to put him on his ass every single play. If he takes off with the ball, we need to hit him hard. I am not advocating anything illegal or unethical. Hitting (a quarterback) every time he becomes a ball carrier makes the player more cognizant/aware that pulling the ball down and running will result in a shot any other running back would take unless, of course, he chooses to slide and/or give himself up out of bounds.
Cunningham's combination of size, strength, toughness, and overall athletic ability will make him a big threat to the Clemson defense. He is too big for a DB to handle and too quick for a linebacker. South Carolina has repeatedly fed him the football on short routes and let him bowl over the competition for yardage. Clemson will have to do a much better job of tackling than in weeks' past because Cunningham will not be taken to the ground easily and will carry Clemson defenders down the field if given the opportunity. Hit him low and hit him hard, just like Lattimore.
Overall, Clemson does not face a tremendously explosive offense. Additionally, this offense struggled quite a few times over the '12 season with the starting QB being benched for backup Dylan Thompson. If Clemson can take the run away from the Gamecocks, the Carolina playcaller will get frustrated. When he gets frustrated he likes to throw the football around. This puts pressure on the quarterback and, with improvement in our secondary play, making open field tackles, and keeping Shaw uncomfortable, limiting this offense is completely feasible...even with some of the performances we've seen out of this Clemson defense this season. We'll see just how aggressive the secondary decided to be this week, whether the defense can keep Ace Sanders/Bruce Ellington from beating down the field, whether the defense can contain Cunningham, and if Connor Shaw can be bottled up and not kill this defense with his legs.
Ultimately it will come down to the trench play here, as all big games do. IF Clemson's D-line can confuse and disrupt their OL schemes, we could have a field day. If they dominate us up front again, it'll be 4 in a row.