2013 Clemson @ SCar Game Preview

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

This is the game a lot of Palmetto State citizens point to as "the game." This is the weekend that sets bragging rights for the rest of the year. We'll try and get you ready for Saturday night by previewing the Gamecocks today. (Note, general / team information tables added 4:45 PM).

Basic Game Information

Game Time 7 PM EST
Stadium Williams-Brice Stadium
Host City Columbia, SC
Television ESPN2
Play by Play Announcer Mark Jones
Color Commentator Brock Huard
Sideline Jessica Mendoza
Clemson Radio Clemson Tiger Sports Network (WCCP FM)
CU Play-By-Play Pete Yanity
CU Color Commentary Will Merritt
CU Sideline Reporting Patrick Sapp

Team Comparison

Clemson South Carolina
2013 Record: 10-1, 7-1 ACC 9-2, 6-2 in SEC
Rankings: 6 AP, 4 USA Today, 6 BCS 10 AP, 9 USA Today, 10 BCS
Location: Clemson, SC Columbia, SC
Colors: Clemson Orange and Regalia Garnet and White
Enrollment: 20,768 31,288
Athletic Director: Dan Radakovich Ray Tanner
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney, Alabama ‘93 Steve Spurrier, Florida ‘67
Record at Current School: 50-22 (.694) 75-39 (9th season)
Career Record: 50-22 (.694) 217-79-2 (23rd season)
Offensive Coordinator: Chad Morris Steve Spurrier
Base Offense: Spread Multiple
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Venables Lorenzo Ward
Base Defense: 4-3 4-2-5
Athletic Website: www.clemsontigers.com www.gamecocksonline.com

These two teams will meet for the first Top-10 matchup in series history Saturday.  We'd like to take this opportunity to discuss the coaches, players, and general tendencies/strategies in advance of Saturday's football game.  Last season we took a good bit of time and effort to identify areas and schemes associated with the South Carolina football team.  There have been few significant changes philosophically down in Columbia.  Accordingly, we suggest you use this stream as a good primer for basic schemes you'll see this weekend.

Head Coach

You're all likely familiar with the Old Ball Coach, so I'll keep the historical background piece to a minimum.  Steve Spurrier began his college football career as quarterback for the University of Florida.  While there he did a lot of impressive things that include kicking a game-winning 40 yard field goal against Auburn and winning the 1966 Heisman Trophy as the Gators' quarterback.  Spurrier then spent a couple years as a player in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He entered the coaching realm as QB coach at Florida then Georgia Tech before becoming OC at Duke.  SOS got his first head coaching gig with the old USFL Tampa Bay Bandits before heading back to Duke as the head man.  Spurrier's most famous and successful run occurred when he returned to his Alma Mater in 1990 to lead the Gators to the top of the football world.  The Old Ball Coach left Florida in 2001 to coach the Washington Redskins for two seasons then returned to the college ranks at SCar in 2005.

During his time at Duke, Spurrier dabbled in creating his own offense.  He carried that philosophy with him henceforth and it ultimately exploded during his head coaching days at UF.  The combination of ridiculous talent and unique offensive philosophy dubbed the Gators' attack the "Fun ‘n Gun."  At South Carolina (as we'll discuss in the offensive portion below) Spurrier has not been as wide open and found more success lining up in "traditional" formations and running the football.  Still, you can see his desire to get back to this wide open style off offensive attack instead of the more ball-control/defensive oriented style of football that he's seen success with at South Carolina.

Offense

As mentioned earlier, the head coach also runs the offense.  Over the years, Spurrier has dabbled with letting others call plays and has given special titles to assistants.  Make no mistake about it...SOS is fully in charge of this offense and pulls all the gameday strings.  As mentioned earlier, Spurrier developed his own offense at Duke then evolved it in the USFL before putting on the main stage at Duke/UF. This offense would then be leveraged into a bunch of wins at Duke, Florida, and now in Columbia. The offensive philosophy has morphed over the years from "Fun 'n Gun" to a more tame/seemingly conservative version some folks at SC refer to as the "Cock 'n Fire." While Spurrier has always emphasized the running game, his offenses at Florida were more wide open and more prolific. He has turned Scar's football program around with a greater emphasis on the run game and more ball control. This evolution showed that the OBC was willing to adapt in order to win--though you can still tell he wants to throw the ball all over the field and would do so if he had different personnel.

Carolina features a multiple attack that shows multiple formations from the "I" all the way to spread gun looks.  If you've watched South Carolina much this season, you'll agree that the Gamecocks have been very successful lining up in the I-Formation and running the football with Mike Davis.  Davis has a boatload of yards on the season and has impressed everyone around the Southeast.  Another aspect that you probably noticed is SOS's impatient nature and near insistence on getting out of the base two-back sets and try his hand throwing the football or running out of the Gun.  This is something that I haven't quite been able to understand the entire time SOS has been at Carolina as early in his tenure the Gamecocks lost quite a few games because of this resistance to line up and run the football.

The Gamecocks have two battle-tested quarterbacks-Conner Shaw or Dylan Thompson.  Shaw is the starter for the Gamecocks but has been hurt several times over his career.  This year injuries vaulted Thompson into the spotlight against UCF and Missouri (though Shaw did relieve Thompson in the dramatic comeback at Mizzou earlier this fall).  Clemson fans should be familiar with both of these guys via games played against the Tigers.  Conner Shaw is more of a game manager who can definitely beat you with his legs and typically will throw the ball into the stands instead of taking risk.  Carolina fans will quickly point to the fact that Shaw has not lost a game as a starter in Williams-Brice Stadium.  Thompson is more known for his arm and can get the ball down the field.

I've viewed South Carolina's pass offense as inconsistent on the year.  There were games where the Gamecocks were efficient throwing the football and there were also times that saw poorly thrown footballs and/or dropped passes to thwart the passing attack.  There are a variety of reasons for this perceived inconsistency including Shaw's low risk tolerance, his injuries, and growing pains for the pass catchers.  On the year, Shaw has completed 61.8% of his 233 attempts for nearly 2,000 yards, 20 TDs, and 1 interception.  He has also rushed for 417 yards and 4 TDs.  Thompson is 52/89 for 783 yards with 4 TDs and 3 INTs on the year.  Thompson has 16 carries for 27 yards and 3 rushing TDs so far this season.

The Gamecocks' leading receiver is two-sport star Bruce Ellington.  Ellington has 39 receptions for 580+ yards and 6 TD grabs on the season.  Demiere Byrd has contributed with 30 catches for nearly 550 yards and 4 TD catches so far.  Shaq Roland has over 300 yards receiving this year and Nicky Jones accounts for 24 catches and 256 receiving yards headed into this weekend's contest.  Carolina TEs have contributed this season with Rory "Busta" Anderson racking up 235 yards and Jerrell Adams with 170 yards on the season.

We mentioned Mike Davis earlier.  He is the weapon most will focus upon as MD has well over 1100 yards and 10 TDs for an impressive 6.2 ypc on the season.  Carolina used Davis in the passing game as the sophomore has 30 receptions for 332 yards in the 2013 season.  Outside of Davis and Shaw on the ground, Shon Carson (58 carries, 254 yards) and Brandon Wilds (37 carries, 202 yards) have seen action for Carolina this season.

Defense

Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward is the defensive signal caller for the Gamecocks. He took over the reins of defensive coordinator from Ellis Johnson prior to Johnson leaving to become the head coach at Southern Miss. Ward was Scar's secondary coach prior to Johnson's departure.  Whammy played his college ball at Bammer in the late '80's. He returned to Tuscaloosa as a grad assistant under Ellis Johnson.  After a year in the high school ranks and a season at Bama again in '93, Ward joined the UT Chattanooga staff.  Ward has experience coaching under Frank Beamer, coaching in the pros for the Oakland Raiders, and at Arkansas before landing at Scar in 2008.

South Carolina features a 4-2-5 defense.  We saw this alignment last week and see a tremendous amount of nickel from other teams due to Clemson's offensive HUNH strategy.  The difference in the 4-2-5 compared to nickel is the type of player who fills that "5" portion of 4-2-5.  In an old nickel package, you just bring in an extra defensive back.  In most cases this DB is the best pass defense player you have because nickel is usually employed in passing situations.  The 4-2-5 that South Carolina plays uses a hybrid linebacker/defensive back called the "Spur" and is designed to defend base offenses (both pass and run plays).  This player must be able to cover like a defensive back but must also have the physical skills of a linebacker.  He must also be able to make a presnap read to determine if he will help in pass coverage as a defensive back or get into the box to create a seven man front.  For more insight on the 4-2-5, check out an article we wrote a while back.

As you likely know by now, South Carolina's defense is led by the defensive front.  The Gamecocks feature Jadeveon Clowney at the defensive end position.  Clowney is by many accounts the best player in the country and almost assuredly the best defensive lineman in college football.  Clowney demands special treatment by opposing offenses and often dictates the offense's philosophy to assure he is accounted for and doesn't run wild.  Carolina has another very good defensive end on the other side in Chaz Sutton.  Between the two, Kelcy Quarles and Surratt start at the tackle positions.  Quarles has already declared he will forego his senior season in Columbia and enter the 2014 NFL draft.  The Gerald Dixon brothers provide backup for the Gamecocks along with Phillip Dukes.

South Carolina replaced the majority of the 2012 defense outside of the linemen.  Gone are all the MIKE and WILL linebackers from last season along, SPUR DeVonte Holloman, Safety D.J. Swearinger, and Corner Akeem Auguste.  While Auguste struggled at times, the others left big holes for Ward to try and backfill.  Accordingly, the Gamecocks have struggled at times behind the defensive line this season.  The linebackers are composed of freshmen and sophomores.  Most think these guys are more athletically talented than their predecessors but experience and understanding at the linebacker position is critical for success.  Many Carolina fans have repeatedly complained about missed tackles here.  I'll attribute a good bit of that to inexperience.  Sans a couple instances against Florida in the first half I'd say that this area has improved over the course of the year.  The secondary features corner Victor Hampton.  He is good-good enough that he is considering leaving SCar early to try his hand in the NFL next year.  The other corner spot is filled by Jimmy Legree.  Like the safeties behind him, Legree is serviceable but I definitely wouldn't consider him elite.  The South Carolina secondary has struggled at times this season-so much so that Spurrier himself has committed at times to personally working with the DBs during practice sessions.  Many Carolina fans wonder why they don't get more aggressive on defense.  Whammy is admittedly more aggressive than his predecessor but, in my opinion, doesn't feel comfortable getting too aggressive due to questions on the backend of this defense.

Overall

South Carolina is 9-2 coming into this football game.  This may not be a pretty 9-2, but the scoreboard never asks questions.  As such, they are a good football team that is capable of finding a way to win football games.  South Carolina also carries the nation's longest home winning streak into this game so clearly they have been tough at home the past couple years.  South Carolina is also riding a four game winning streak over Clemson-something that most of us never thought we'd see but also something those guys are proud of and want to extend to five.  As such, Clemson will need to come in sporting the "A" game.  This is the most hostile environment our Tigers will experience this season so we'll see how they respond to this aspect of the football game.

I'd believe that South Carolina will want to do all in its power to keep the Clemson offense off the field.  This involves running the football in an effort to control the clock through methodical third down conversions and such.  This is the strength of the Carolina offense so I'd expect Davis to see his fair share of touches and Shaw given latitude to pull the ball to run.  Accordingly, I'd expect a lot of their passes to be off of play action-obviously PA effectiveness increases tremendously with increased production out of the running game.  I also expect the Gamecocks to try to move Shaw out of the pocket.  This helps with pass protection, utilizes his mobility, and sets up better for Shaw to tuck the ball and take off.

Clemson has to stop Davis early.  If Carolina-and specifically Steve Spurrier-runs into resistance, the playcaller tends to get impatient which leads him to get in the Gun try and throw the ball around.  Clemson stand a much better chance of stopping this Carolina with Vic Beasley and crew pressuring the senior quarterback.  I am concerned about the loss of Travis Blanks this week but still think I'd take my chances against Shaw and their receivers instead of Davis and the offensive line.

Offensively, Clemson could have a field day or it could be the disaster we saw last year...and the whole thing depends upon how well the Tiger offensive line can handle the Carolina defensive front along with playcalling.  Keeping Tajh Boyd comfortable and getting him in a groove is essential for the Clemson offense to get going.  Clearly he will be much more comfortable without being harassed.  Tajh also seems to "hear footsteps" when protection begins to fail him.  Last year's Carolina game was a perfect example as Boyd walked into a couple sacks and prematurely left the pocket due to protection concerns.  These concerns also seem to push Boyd into staring down receivers more than usual, which is never good when trying to throw the football.

Additionally, the Chad can get Boyd in rhythm early by assuring a couple easy completions.  Morris must avoid the same playcalling pitfall we identified earlier with SOS.  The Chad often prematurely abandons the run game in favor of calling pass plays.  This, in my opinion, was the case last season against South Carolina which resulted in the Carolina defensive front putting even more pressure on Boyd.  An interesting item to watch will be Clemson's Red Zone offense this week.  The Tigers have struggled mightily in this area all season and I'd reason that plying against a really good defensive front in the compressed area of the field will present problems for the Clemson offense.  I'll also assume that the Chad doesn't play around and just tries to barrel Boyd up the gut repeatedly in these scenarios.

Overall, the personnel matchup looks to make this game a good one.  Clemson's receivers have an advantage over the SCar secondary but the SCar defensive line has a definitive advantage over the Clemson front five.  Defensively, I'd think Carolina has the advantage if they insist on pounding the ball but I like the Clemson defense if the playcalling trends towards more passing and especially like the Clemson defense if there is success stopping the Carolina run game with base schemes.

These scenario combinations indicate this could be a close game.  In that realm, Clemson hasn't really had a true knock down drag it out to the end game (unless you consider the late Georgia comeback that type of game) since last year's Peach Bowl.  Carolina has succeeded several times in close games (Missouri is the most obvious example) but did falter at Tennessee.  In case you are wondering, both teams' kicker has been reliable all year though Catman is a senior while Elliott Fry is a freshman.

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