Ah, I can feel the warm hatred pulsing through my veins as I think about this upcoming game with USCjr. It hasn't taken much for many of those feathered faithful to start crowing again about how good they are GOING to be. Trouble is, Clemson is already good, like better than USCjr has ever been in their history good. That fact hasn't been lost on the oddsmakers who have made Clemson an overwhelming favorite in this game. But, as Dabo noted in his presser, the game isn't played on paper and last year’s game should have been a four score beating but wasn't. It is Clemson versus Clemson as usual here, because if the Tigers play clean there is no hope for the Gamecocks. Sure they will play inspired football, but they will need a lot of help to pull the upset.
The Gamecocks are bowl eligible in spite of themselves which has them all puffed up and proud. I give them credit for exploiting a very weak schedule as a decent team should. Their out of conference foes outside of Clemson have won a combined 7 games (ECU and WCU are last in their conferences). They have played five teams with winning records and went 1-4 in those games. They drew the last place team from the SEC West and lost to them...badly. What they are is an average team who has done a great job of simply not beating itself, which essentially makes them another Wake Forest. While USCjr is a more explosive on offense than the Deacs, Wake has an edge defensively. Both teams have thrived on turnovers this season. What this comes down to is taking care of the football and allowing roster superiority to do the rest.
Clemson offense versus USCjr defense: Wayne Gallman and the OL should be licking their chops going into this game. The Gamecocks are giving up almost 200 yards a game and 4.9 yards per carry against the questionable schedule I mentioned earlier. Muschamp has done what he can to protect his thin secondary and has banked on the bend but don't break defense. It has worked pretty well as they have been very good at getting turnovers in the red zone. They were ripped for over 500 yards by East Carolina but picked the Pirates twice in the end zone, forced another fumble at the goal line, and won in a 4th & goal situation...all in a 5 point win. They were stressed by Western Carolina and UMass but turnovers and fourth down stops helped them avoid the upset. I would be surprised if Muschamp sells out on the run to the degree Pitt did and expose his secondary that much. He will hope Clemson can't put 9 to 10 plays together without a mistake. Wayne Gallman should get thirty carries in this game. The execution up front was about as good last week as it has been all season, but consistency has been the issue. They need this game to stay in the 20s to have a realistic shot. Clemson just needs to pound the ball, take care of the ball, and cash in for points of any kind in the red zone therefore daring USCjr to try to keep up.
USCjr’s defense is pedestrian in most every category except red zone defense and turnovers forced, which plays into their overall philosophy this year. There is no doubt Clemson will move the ball on them, so it is a matter of how much they cash in with scores. Opponents are only scoring touchdowns on 51% of their red zone trips and 71% overall. Of course, they haven’t faced a murderer’s row of offenses either so we will see how this plays out Saturday.
Clemson defense versus USCjr offense: If there is redemption to be had, this is the place. Defense was the main culprit of the upset loss to Pitt and was the reason last year’s game in Columbia was even remotely competitive. The Tiger DL and LB units need to flex their muscles and dominate this game up front. For all the Jake Bentley Messiah nonsense coming out of Columbia, he can't win the game unless they can run the ball. The Gators stuffed their run game and they were able to scratch out a measly seven points. I expect Brent Venables will be very aggressive in attacking Dowdle and the run game. As long as Clemson can get them into third and seven or longer, it will be a long night for the visitors. I’m sure we will see a trick play or three, as well as stuff for the tight ends, so staying alert and focused throughout the game, not just for a quarter here and there, is important. Third down has been a strength for Clemson’s defense, and Gamecock success in this series the last ten years has come when they have converted those and kept Clemson’s offense off the field.
The Gamecocks have been a poor road team, especially offensively. They haven't scored more than 13 away from home all year. Now they come into what promises to be an electric Death Valley at night. Honestly, if USCjr gets past 17 points without a defensive or special teams score, the Tiger defense should wear bags on their heads the entire next week. They have a chance to make up for that no show against Pitt and send the seniors off the right way in their final home game.
Special Teams: If there is an edge in this game for the chickens, it is here. They have shown more explosiveness in the kick return game, have a strong placekicker, and a better punting game than Clemson. (Who doesn’t)? Clemson has been largely stellar in kick coverage and needs to make sure a middling Gamecock offense isn’t given any help here. I would have to expect Artavis Scott handling punt return after the ball security woes of Ray-Ray. He could be great but we can't risk those fumbles in a game like this. Conversely, USCjr has given up 3 kick return touchdowns of their own this year. It would be a fine time to finally take a kick to the house this week.
Overall/Prediction: I thought I would let my nine year old daughter Riley weigh in on this matchup...
So there you have it.
Clemson: Whole Lot