After a year without the Palmetto Bowl, the Tigers and Gamecocks finally renew the rivalry. Clemson will be looking to extend their win streak over their feathered friends to seven games. That would tie the longest win streak in the series which was previously set by the Tigers in 1940.
Early in the season this seemed like a easy win, but the Gamecocks are playing much better as of late and are 5-1 at home. To help us preview the rivalry matchup, we connected with Kody Timmers from Garnet and Black Attack.
Ryan: Up until November, the Gamecocks looked horrible. Their only wins in September and October were against FCS/Group of Five teams and Vanderbilt. They were 4-4 and bowl eligibility looked unlikely. Since then, they blew out Florida, lost a close game at Missouri, and won a tight contest against Auburn. What’s been the biggest difference from early in the season to today for this team?
Kody: There’s no question Jason Brown coming in at quarterback was a spark. Zeb Noland, bless him, did everything he could and I’m extremely grateful he was available to step in, but his ceiling was low and his floor even lower. Luke Doty, who I’ve generally been high on, was also clearly not himself after suffering a foot fracture in preseason camp, which greatly hampered his mobility — the strongest part of his game. While Brown hasn’t been a miracle worker, per se — and there’s only so much that can realistically be done behind this offensive line, anyway — he’s shown an ability to improvise and create, which is something the Gamecocks desperately needed. When you have a line that tends to break down as quickly as SC’s, scrambling is a necessary skill, and neither Noland nor Doty could provide that. Brown at least gives the Gamecocks a chance to make something out of nothing.
Ryan: FEI ranks Clemson’s offense just 91st nationally. Fortunately for Tiger fans, the offensive had their best game of the season last week against No. 10 Wake Forest. The offensive line opened up gaping holes and running backs hit them without hesitation and moved the chains. Even DJ Uiagalelei and the depleted wide receiver corps played relatively well. What can U of SC do to slow down Clemson’s offense and make them look more like they did for the first 10 games rather than last week?
Kody: Kingsley Enagbare, Aaron Sterling, and the defensive line are going to need to crank up the pressure and get to Uiagalelei — but perhaps most importantly, can’t allow themselves to get run over by Will Shipley and company, as the run defense has been a recent area of concern for the Gamecocks. The secondary, which most fans had very low expectations of coming into the season due to attrition, has played remarkably well in light of that, and is the main reason the team’s turnover margin is +1. But, again, if the Tigers don’t need to pass much because the downhill running attack is working, that takes South Carolina’s secondary out of the game. I’m very, very concerned about the run defense after Mizzou’s Tyler Badie and Auburn’s Tank Bigsby got pretty much whatever they wanted (the latter of whom was largely only limited by his offensive coordinator).
Ryan: As bad as Clemson has been on offense, the Cocks’ offensive ranks even worse according to FEI — 112th! U of SC has faced two defenses in the general ballpark of Clemson’s, Georgia and Texas A&M, and didn’t eclipse 14 points against either of them. What do they have to do better for a different outcome this time?
Kody: As is often the case with a struggling offense, it all comes down to the offensive line. That unit has been, by far, the Achilles heel of this team, to the extent that whoever’s been in at quarterback almost hasn’t mattered in many of SC’s games. If the line can’t get any push, it can’t open holes for the backs, it can’t protect the quarterback, it can’t give receivers time to get separation. Playcalling will factor in here as well, of course — Marcus Satterfield has shown an odd propensity for staying away from screens and other short/intermediate routes that could slow a pass rush and calls for a lot of deeper, slower-developing pass plays, which has not been a terribly successful combination with an offensive line that can’t hold its blocks. Everyone’s going to have to bring their A games, no doubt about it — Jason Brown will need to continue to flash some dynamic playmaking while limiting mistakes, ZaQuandre White needs to get the majority of the carries (another issue with this staff has been puzzling personnel usage), receivers can’t be making bad drops, etc.
Ryan: For as much as I like to root against U of SC, it is always good to see players led by a good man. Coach Beamer seems like just that. I know Cocks fans will convince themselves Coach Swinney is a phony or some such non-sense, but in all seriousness, they seem to be cut from the same “culture-first” cloth. What was the original reception to the hire and how has that evolved throughout his first season?
Kody: It’s been a roller coaster for sure, I’ll tell you that. A lot of folks — myself included — were, I think, rightfully skeptical of the hire, especially since it seemed like there was a lot of political interference behind the scenes (both from board members and former players) that made it happen.
It’s still far too early to tell how Beamer’s story will end up, of course, but I absolutely agree with you that he seems like an incredible culture fit here and just a genuinely sincere guy all around. There’s no question he legitimately wants to be at SC and do good things for this program, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that the way he connects and interacts with the players is night-and-day from Muschamp’s approach. Being a good person doesn’t mean you’ll be a good coach, unfortunately, but I do very much appreciate this aspect of Beamer and hope it can bear fruit, especially on the recruiting trail. (And since you mentioned him, I do also believe that USC’s brass made this move at least partially with Dabo in mind, as much as our fans would balk at the idea.)
Ryan: U of SC has struggled on the road, but they’ve posted an impressive 5-1 record in Williams-Brice Stadium and are playing their best football of the season. What is their most probable path to victory? What kind of odds to you give them to pull it off?
Kody: I think the Gamecocks’ chances here come down to the usual ingredients you need for an upset: forcing some timely turnovers (that you also cash in on, which has been a problem at points this season); catching the other team on a bad or at least mediocre day; getting a lucky break or two on special teams (like Auburn muffing that punt last week). South Carolina, offensively, is also not the kind of team that can afford to get into an early hole, so the defensive effort at the beginning of the game is going to be key to SC’s odds of hanging around and making things interesting.
I think that while this is the best opportunity the Gamecocks have had in what feels like a very long time, they just aren’t quite there yet, and Clemson’s superior talent and depth (especially on defense) will win the day here. I hate to be the moral victory guy, but as long as this squad is competitive, I think that would nonetheless go a long way toward boosting Beamer’s credibility — because with the exception of 2015, it’s been a minute since the Gamecocks have made this much of a contest. Just show up and put forth a commendable effort, please.
A big thank you to Kody Timmers for these detailed, candid answers. You can follow their site on Twitter at @GABAttack.