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PALMETTO BOWL: Clemson vs South Carolina 1st Quarter Film Review

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This rivalry is broken

Clemson v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This rivalry is broken.

Not because Clemson has won 6 in a row. When South Carolina pulled off their only streak of any kind in the last 50 years, it was the strongest point in the rivalry’s history. This rivalry is broken because one side has completely lost their belief in the entire university leadership while the other ascended to the top of the sport, and completely broke the competitive spirit which comes from the mutual, hate-fueled, and necessary belief your team will win the big game.

I said in my preview the South Carolina defensive front could keep the game respectable if they limited Travis Etienne, which is exactly what they chose to do above all else. The sub 40 point output is indeed a disappointment (selfishly, not actually) and credit goes to the Gamecock front rallying to Etienne and tackling hard. It seems I was wrong, however, in my belief that keeping Clemson under 40 would amount to a moral victory like we discovered last year when Jake Bentley put up 35 points on Clemson.

Part of this is because it’s easier to find positivity in exciting offense than in admirable run defense. Another part is because Trevor Lawrence exposed a secondary which doesn’t have the depth to play man coverage, especially when Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross get to go off against man coverage for once. But I think the main reason we’re not hearing last year’s crowing is because UofSC fans are truly over their administration from the coaching staff all the way up to the Board of Trustees.

What I can’t get over, especially after my truly impressive visit to Williams-Brice in 2017, was just how dead the place was Saturday. Even with Clemson fans filling 20,000 seats (at least), there were more than a few empty pockets in the SC season ticket sections, which already had too many orange pockets supplementing them. The atmosphere was non-existent after the opening 4th down stop while they held their collective breath waiting for the inevitable. The most heckling I overheard was “wait til Ohio State gets ya” or “enjoy eating that UVA cupcake.” (I then realized irony is dead this kind of lack of self-awareness killed it).

There’s little positivity for them to glean from another blowout, even if it forced Clemson’s “worst” offensive display in weeks, when you’ve already given up with this staff. There’s no hope to be found in what felt like a truly sleep-walking atmosphere yesterday, even before it thinned out. They may snap out of it when new blood takes over, but yesterday in their own stadium, even the most stubbornly optimistic/pigheaded fans seemed to at last accept reality.

Many a columnist will lament how the once criminally-underrated Palmetto Bowl has fallen, but you know what I think I’m fine with it.


Clemson opens the game from the SC 35 yard line

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 pistol vs nickel (pressure front) Flea flicker to Higgins underthrown (as almost every flea flicker is) vs man free incomplete The reason almost every flea flicker is underthrown is a free rush after the pitch back forces the QB to throw early and/or without proper footwork. Higgins made a great effort to even get 2 hands on this through a defender, possible PI but the no call was fair.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Swing to Etienne gains 11 SC is predominantly man but tries to avoid man under by the linebackers; quick swing to unmarked running back will force man under or underneath zone...
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Split zone handoff to Etienne gains 7 Anchrum did enough to get Etienne off tackle and find room; there was none inside.
2nd & 3 11 shotgun shift to empty vs nickel Quick slant to Higgins vs man incomplete Higgins won the route easily, Lawrence just missed his spot, too low.
3rd & 3 11 shotgun (trips to field) vs nickel Trail stick route to Ross complete vs soft man, gain of 7 Nothing is more likely to find an opening in short space against man than a trail route from a bunch set. SC can't press all 3 receivers and it's easy to effectively screen an underneath route from outside to inside before man defenders can clear the bunch formation traffic.
1st & 10 11 pistol vs nickel RPO power handoff to Dixon gains 9 SC is fine with Dixon taking handoffs, tis the poison they've picked.
2nd & 1 11 shotgun vs nickel IZ to Dixon gains 3 The stick option passes were so softly covered that a quick pull would've actually been a better read.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel PA flood concept (go, deep out, and short out routes all to the same side of the field) deep out to Rodgers overthrown incomplete. Flood concepts are zone beaters (3 different route depths versus 2 zone defense depths) and a great call since Clemson caught SC in soft zone. Lawrence just missed again.
2nd & 10 Empty shotgun vs nickel Jet fake to Etienne, tunnel screen to Ross gains 3 Pollard whiffed on what should've been a relatively easy block in space.
3rd & 7 11 shotgun vs nickel Dropback vs cover 2 man under, Lawrence steps up and gains 22 up the middle This is why most teams avoid man under in a spread RPO era: it gives up easy QB runs. 2 corners and 3 linebackers man up on the 5 eligibile receivers in front of 2 deep safeties splitting the field. That leaves no one but the 4 man pass rush to account for the QB.

South Carolina then proceeds to stuff Etienne on 4 carries inside the 3 yard line; that was the day’s only real low point but it was a HUGE low point.

SC ball, 8:59, SC 1

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 21 pistol vs dime PA post complete for 21 PA pulled Simmons down and out of his middle zone, wide open in front of Turner.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime TO dive gains 2 Simmons gets all the headlines around the dime formation but Wallace can't be overlooked; he's asked to play Sam and blitz seemingly every other play, and does so with freneticism and awareness.
2nd & 8 11 shotgun vs dime Quick slant against man cover 1 blitz batted down incomplete The zone team is better at man coverage than the man coverage team...
3rd & 8 Empty shotgun vs dime Deep comeback route bracketed but thrown anyway against man cover 1double LB spy, thrown too far inside toward DK who makes the pick Hilinski has poor mechanics and an especially bad release angle due to injury, so accuracy has been an issue, but Wallace sloughed off the TE in the flat to help force this inside toward Kendrick.

Clemson ball, 7:51, SC 23

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 12 shotgun vs nickel RPO skinny post to Ross, PI 4 refs threw the flag in metered time, beautiful.
1st & 10 11 pistol vs nickel OZ to Etienne strung out for no gain Chalk held his block on the edge well enough but SC overwhelmed with numbers flying down. Etienne did extremely well to prevent a big loss.
2nd & 10 Empty shotgun vs nickel Jailbreak blitz in front of cover 0, slant to Ross incomplete Forgive this blasphemy but I for one like the cut blocks Clemson just threw at an aggressive line sending more than they can block, opened a throwing lane but Lawrence just missed against good coverage.
3rd & 10 10 shotgun vs nickel Fade to Higgins from the bunch, perfectly thrown and caught, easy touchdown. Worth pointing out the easy slant to Ross was wide open this time but this throw was more fun.

SC ball, 6:58, SC 25, 7-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Wildcat vs 4-3 Power keeper strung out for a loss of 5, Simmons made the monster tackle Why does anyone run toward the strong side on Clemson, like ever?
2nd & 15 11 shotgun vs 4-3 TE drag dropped vs cover 3 Hilinski inaccuracy saved Clemson 5 yards.
3rd & 15 10 shotgun vs dime Quick screen vs 3 man rush, man under, immediately stuffed by Skalski for a gain of 2 Excited to finally see the Gamecocks' best player, the punter. Purest Muschamp.

Clemson ball 5:37, Clemson 25, 7-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Counter to Etienne gains 4 Well blocked but Carman misdirected Etienne into a filling safety at the second level.
2nd & 6 11 pistol vs nickel RPO give to Etienne gains 5 Etienne has had nothing but tough running thus far, SC definitely keying on him.
3rd & 1 12 shotgun vs 4-3 Split zone to Etienne gains 1 Etienne tripped at the line but his forward lean enabled him to trip forward.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel PA, deep go to Higgins vs soft cover 4, BOMBED My favorite TD of the season. Ridiculous throw on the run against laughable coverage. The corner (staying in his 1/4 zone instead of man pattern matching like most cover 4 teams do) passed Higgins off to the safety AFTER Higgins was already passed the safety.

SC ball, 3:46. SC 25, 14-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 12 shotgun vs 4-3 Counter to Feaster BLOWN UP BY RUDOLPH The LT doubled Davis and the pulling RG was supposed to block Rudolph, but he was too quick and nobody touched him.
2nd & 15 11 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ to Feaster gains 6 XT slipped the TE arc block and almost had Feaster in the backfield again.
3rd & 9 10 shotgun vs dime COVER 4 FIRE ZONE SIMMONS SACKS HILINSKI FOR A LOSS OF 5 And here we've found my favorite blitz of the season.

3 Dixon carries and a pop pass to Rodgers gash the Gamecocks in consecutive plays to end the quarter with Clemson just across the 50.