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Q&A with Garnet and Black Attack

Rivalry Week/Hate Week, whatever you wanna call, wouldn't be complete without exchanging question and answers with the enemy.  This week we caught up with South Carolina's SBNation site, Garnet And Black Attack.

STS: Clemson's offensive line hasn't played well all year, but has been even worse in recent weeks.  Is there any reason to believe that Ingram, Robertson, and Clowney won't chew this group up and spit them out?  Any signs of USC's DL wearing down?

There are still some questions regarding whether Clowney will play or not; he suffered a concussion last week and hasn't been as quick to pass all his tests as was expected. However, he's likely to be ready to go, and everyone else should be full speed.

I expect a strong performance from USC's defensive line in this game. What you have to like here as a Gamecocks fan is that teams that can get pressure with the front four while dropping the rest into coverage have had a lot of success stopping Clemson's running and passing game. That approach has been USC's forte all season long; USC doesn't blitz much but still manages to get pressure because of strong end play. The only questionable performance here came against a streaking Arkansas team with a very good offensive line. Unless something changes drastically this weekend for one or both teams, USC's defensive line versus Clemson's offensive line is a matchup USC should win.

STS: Assuming USC's DL wins the battle up front and takes away Clemson's running game, how susceptible is USC's back 4/5 in the passing game.  USC has a played a lot of run first teams, but they have seemingly struggled to defend the pass against teams that are capable of throwing the ball.

USC's secondary is vulnerable against the pass when the QB has time to throw, so I do think Clemson will likely have success if we can't create a good push up front. Arkansas laid the blueprint, and Clemson, outside of the key offensive line, has similar capabilities. I would say here that you probably shouldn't put too much stock in how the Gamecocks pass defense played against Georgia. Georgia gashed Carolina in the shallow passing game because we ran too many soft coverages. We've since gone to more press coverages and aren't giving up as much there. However, while the now-more-experienced secondary isn't as prone to blown coverages as it was last year, we have some safeties who should probably be linebackers, so there are some potential matchups that Clemson could exploit--if it can give Boyd time to throw the ball.

STS: Talk a little bit about how the offense looks with the losses of Garcia and Lattimore.  Specifically, has Shaw been able to move the ball through the air?  Are you guys running much zone read to utilize Shaw's running ability?

Shaw seems to be a very effective passer when he's given plenty of time to throw. He reads defenses better than Garcia and throws a nice, accurate ball. His weakness is that he takes off running every time the rush comes. He's avoided sacks, gotten some yards, and moved the chains by doing so, but he's also missed some open receivers downfield that he could have hit if he had stepped up in the pocket instead of running for the edge. If I had to compare Shaw and Garcia, I'd say Shaw is more accurate, smarter with the football, and thus less turnover prone, but he's also less likely to make the big play because he doesn't take risks. At any rate, Shaw is a large step-up from 2011 Garcia, although he's not as good as Garcia was last year, at least not "good Garcia," i.e., the Garcia that showed up against Alabama as opposed to Florida St.

Shaw and Wilds have proven to be quite dangerous out of the zone read, and you can expect to see quite a bit of that, particularly if Carolina has trouble protecting Shaw early in the game. Shaw is fast and runs the read well. Wilds has proven to be a very serviceable replacement for Lattimore; he doesn't break quite as many tackles, but he's a bit faster, has good vision, and makes good cuts. He can catch the ball, too, much like Lattimore. You'll see Shaw look to him on the check down, and we've run a couple of deep wheel routes to him, although he hasn't yet reeled one of those in. He also runs a good fake carry out of the zone read. He and Shaw had Florida pretty confused a few times.

STS: Getting away from on-field schemes and tactics, how much longer do you see Spurrier sticking around?  Every year there seems to be a lot of talk that he could step away and this year is no different.

I'll put it this way: I don't think he'll step down, but I wouldn't be surprised if he would. On the one hand, I think he at the very least wants to end his career as USC's wins leader, as well as to get another crack in the SECCG. He's as close as he'll ever be to both milestones, and he'll def. get to the former soon if he sticks it out. That said, the guy isn't getting any younger, so you never can tell. At any rate, I wouldn't put too much stock in what the media says about Spurrier. They've expected him to retire since he stepped on campus because they've just never caught on with the idea of him at USC. He'll do what he wants to do.

STS: This is a big game for both teams.  Clemson desperately needs to find some momentum heading into the ACC championship game and Swinney can ill-afford to lose a 3rd straight to the Gamecocks.  From a Gamecocks perspective, it seems a win would help to achieve a more elite bowl game while giving the staff some ammo on the recruiting trail.  How do you see this one playing out and who takes the bragging rights into next year?

Hard to say which team the game is more important to. On the one hand, Clemson expects to get back in the winners column after dominating the series for years. Clemson isn't used to losing to USC, so another loss by Dabo won't be taken well. On the other hand, USC doesn't have a conference championship game to go to, so this is clearly our big game. If I had to say, I'd say USC has more riding on the game for that reason, but that's just me.

As far as the outcome, I think USC wins a close one. We have some matchups going our way in this one along the lines, and we have a bit more momentum going into the game. However, unless our defense creates scores, I don't think our offense is going to score enough points for this one to get out of hand. I expect a couple of lead chances in the second half, but USC's defense will come up with some stops and Shaw and Wilds will team up for a late, clock-eating drive to put the game away. Let's say 28-23 Gamecocks.