With the annual rivalry game against South Carolina this weekend, we had a chance to talk with Garnet and Black Attack, the SB Nation site covering all things South Carolina. James from the staff was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, the answers are below. I also answered a few questions for them that will be up on their site later.
STS: So Will Muschamp is finishing up his first season as head coach. How do y'all think he has done so far and what's the mood around the program and the future?
GABA: There's definitely a wave of optimism floating around Columbia and this program, but I'm not sure if it's more so because of some young guys coming out and performing or the coaching job Muschamp has accomplished thus far. They might go hand and hand though. A year ago today, this program was at a all-time low, so the fact that we're heading to a bowl game now is a testament in and of itself in the belief Muschamp has been able to instill in this group and the work he has put in since stepping foot on campus. There's still a long way to go though, and that's most evident in inconsistent play in all three phases of the game.
How he does on the recruiting trail this summer will really gauge where this program is heading.
STS: Will Muschamp has always been known for having a quality defense. If Clemson is going to beat South Carolina how should they be attacking the Gamecock defense?
GABA: Create some form of balance between the passing and run game. If the Gamecocks front line is able to stuff the Tigers' running backs and keep Deshaun's legs in check early, it'll force Watson and the offensive coaches to call a more one dimensional game. If that happens, I'll gladly take my chances with our secondary against the Clemson receivers. While Clemson possesses more skill with their receivers than our corners and safeties, we've had enough success coming through when needed, that I'm willing to rely on them some more.
If Clemson can string some consistent runs though, it's going to be really difficult slowing down the Tiger offense, pending they don't shot themselves in the foot with turnovers.
STS: On the opposite side of the ball, his offense's have been.... lackluster. Is that the same this year and who are some of the key players for Clemson to keep an eye on?
GABA: Yes, at times. We've had glimpses of fear from how bad the offense can look, but that was before Bentley took over and Rico Dowdle debuted. I think the Gamecock offense got just the confidence they needed effortlessly moving the ball up and down the field last week, albeit against an FCS Western Carolina. While the offense statistically ranks near the bottom of the FBS in most categories, that's mainly a representation of the beginning of the year than after the bye week.
In terms of who the Tiger defense needs to hone in on, Deebo Samuel, Rico Dowdle and Jake Bentley make this offense move. That said, there's enough role players defined around them that shutting just those skill guys down doesn't mean the Gamecocks offense will stall. K.C Crosby and Hayden Hurst are legit threats at slot and tight end positions and Bryan Edwards has shown flashes of brilliance at receiver.
STS: So we've heard a lot of fan talk about Jake Bentley. Right now just how dangerous is he and what should Clemson fans expect to see on Saturday?
GABA: Dangerous. Very, very dangerous. Kidding, partially, but he has awoken this offense from it's early season slumber and saved a lot of criticism from heading OC Kurt Roper's way. Bentley has shown to be the real deal, but has struggled in the passing game a little more the past couple of weeks. He was definitely a little slower out there than the stout Florida defense in The Swamp and didn't really get all that many chances downfield against WCU last week.
What Bentley provides, that fellow true freshman and senior Perry Orth lack, is an accurate and dangerous deep ball that can puncture secondaries 20-25 yards down field consistently. I think Brent Venables and his defensive staff are going to put together an aggressive game plan that aims to pressure Bentley consistently and force him into some errant throws and interceptions trying to make him feel as uncomfortable as they can in front of a hostile environment. This will be the biggest stage he has played on, so it's imperative his troubled o-line plays the game of their season and he stays calm in the pocket.
STS: If South Carolina is going to upset Clemson on Saturday what are some of the keys you'll be expecting to see from the Gamecocks?
GABA: I think it lies within the running game on both sides. As mentioned earlier, if the South Carolina defensive front can quiet the Tiger ground game and if the Gamecocks o-line is able to push the Clemson d-line backwards and create a hole or two for Rico Dowdle and the other Carolina backs, the Gamecocks might find themselves hanging around late.
If South Carolina can accomplish both of those things it'll go along way in winning the time of possession and keeping #4 in orange off the field. The more time Bentley spends on the field, the more comfortable he will get in front of the raucous Tiger faithful, he's just going to have to avoid making any costly mistakes early, which for the most part, he's been able to do thus far.
STS: When you look at this matchup what gives you confidence that South Carolina can go into Death Valley and come out with a win?
GABA: I thought this more so before Clemson suffered a loss, but still think it to be true. Clemson's goals are much loftier than anything South Carolina can accomplish this year, in terms of national achievements. Because of that, and the recent success Clemson has had over the Gamecocks, I think there's a chance they might come out overlooking us just enough, thinking about that ACC Championship game and potential playoff birth, that the Gamecocks come out and surprise them with a little more talent and skill than expected.
Position by position match-up, there's no question Clemson possesses more talent on the roster, but that's why they play the game I guess, so we'll see what happens.
STS: Finally, how do you see this game playing out?
GABA: As much as I want to take an unbiased approach to this, that's so much harder when you're dealing with a hated rival rather than just another conference foe. Nothing would make me happier than spoiling the Tiger's season.
So, I'm not going to try to predict some score, but I think the Gamecocks have a decent shot at an upset, so that's what I'm hoping for and how I want it to play out. We'll find out soon enough.