1. Lorenzo Ward replaced Ellis Johnson in the offseason as South Carolina's DC. Does his philosophy differ from Johnson's? How happy have you been with him to date?
Ward's philosophy is fairly similar to Johnson's. We're still running a 4-2-5 as our base defense, and I expect we'll run lots of nickel looks against Clemson. One thing that Ward said prior to the season was that we would blitz more aggressively, which wasn't a big part of Johnson's approach. However, we haven't seen as much blitzing as I thought we would, which may be because there's less temptation to blitz when you have someone like Clowney at end.
2. Ideally, Clemson wants to pound the ball through the A-gaps to set up the pass game. Everyone knows about Clowney and Taylor on the ends, but how stout are the Gamecocks DTs? Is there potential for Clemson to get a push and establish the run game that Morris desires?
South Carolina has gotten better against the run as the season has progressed. Kelcy Quarles is a versatile tackle who is good against the run but is also fast enough to get after the quarterback. Byron Jerideau is more of a traditional stop-gap tackle, and he's played better and better as the season has progressed. J.T. Surrat is another good stop-gap who is developing nicely. I would expect South Carolina to have success against the run in this game. The only team that has had serious success running the ball against South Carolina is LSU, and while I expect better from our defensive line against a banged up LSU defensive line in that game, Jerideau was banged up and Quarles left early, and LSU is known for its excellent line play and run game, banged up or not. Carolina is healthier at tackle now, and I wouldn't expect Clemson's offensive line to have the kind of success against us that LSU had.
3. FSU played a lot of press man against Clemson and was able to throw off the timing of the routes long enough for their DL to get pressure on Boyd. Any chance we see South Carolina take a similar approach? And do you have talented enough DBs to stay with Watkins, Hopkins, and Brown long enough for Clowney and Taylor to get to Boyd?
I would expect we'll see some press man coverage from Carolina in this game. I also think Carolina is in as good shape as it has been all year to contain Clemson's wideouts because Akeem Auguste is finally healthy. He's played well the past couple of games. This gives Carolina a lot more options, particularly considering the need for nickel packages against Clemson's spread looks. My main concern here is how well we tackle in space. Clemson has made a living gaining yards after the catch in the short passing game, and I would expect that the Tigers will continue to use this approach to negate our pass rush. Carolina's corners have struggled with missed tackles, which is worrisome. Auguste, Victor Hampton, and Jimmy Legree have been good in coverage generally, and I've been pleased with Ward's defensive scheme against the pass, but none of our corners are as good tackling in the open field as Stephon Gilmore was. Keeping the short pass from hurting us will play a big role for us in this game.
4. On the other side of the ball, Clemson has been abused by teams that are able to use the forward pass as a weapon. Spurrier seems like he played things conservatively last week against Wofford, but does he trust Connor Shaw enough to open things up against a porous Clemson secondary?
Shaw played poorly against Wofford, but we were definitely running a very vanilla game plan that probably didn't help him much. Spurrier trusts Shaw's arm. I'm not going to tell you that Shaw is all-world throwing the football downfield or that he's going to match Mike Glennon's 490+ yards passing, but Shaw has proven before that he can be effective passing the ball against teams with better passing defenses than Clemson. NC State had a lot of success using the tight ends to exploit favorable matchups against Clemson, and I would expect the same from Carolina, which also has some good ends. Carolina's wideouts, particularly Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders, can also be dangerous. Protecting Shaw will be key. It should be noted that he's been banged up lately, and that seems to have limited his effectiveness running the ball. His comfort in the pocket will be key to his performance.
5. Someone at STS asserted that Clemson doesn't have any defensive players that could make South Carolina's 2-deep. So I ask you, is there anyone that you would take off of Clemson's defense and plug into South Carolina's rotation?
Carolina could find a place for Rashard Hall. Obviously, D.J. Swearinger has had a very good year, mostly from the free safety spot. Brison Williams has also been good at the strong safety spot, but Hall would probably be a step up. The other player on Clemson's defense that I like is Malliciah Goodman, but Carolina has a surplus of talent at defensive end.
6. The line for this game is currently Clemson -4. How confident are you about South Carolina going into Death Valley at night and coming out the victor?
If the game were played on a neutral field, I would confidently pick Carolina. However, this is a night game at Clemson, and that's good for Clemson for two particular reasons. First of all, the Tigers can run their up-tempo offense more effectively in front of a friendly crowd. Second of all, Shaw has generally struggled on the road, although it should be noted that some of those games have come against legitimately elite defenses, which Clemson obviously doesn't have. Given these two facts, I think the line is reasonable. I feel like Carolina has a very good chance to win if it plays well, but the same goes for Clemson, and I certainly don't expect another blowout win for Carolina. This is going to be a hard-fought game.