2020 was a bizarre year to say the least, but one of the most bizarre in the context of sports was the omission of the Palmetto Bowl. A hapless Gamecock program was spared yet another beating at the hands of Clemson in Death Valley. Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers, Cornell Powell, and Jackson Carman didn’t get to have their one final parting shot in what likely would have been at least a four score victory.
In the meantime, U of SC has hit the reboot button again with former Steve Spurrier assistant Shane Beamer in an attempt at finding their Dabo Swinney. To his credit, he’s done more with less than his predecessor.
This Gamecock team is not great by any stretch of the imagination. They have been sliced up by the better running backs they have faced this season and have seen long stretches of anemic offensive play and injuries at quarterback. They should have lost at home to Vanderbilt. They should have lost to East Carolina. Troy gave them all they wanted.
To their credit, they won those games and have found a little mojo at the expense of a crumbling Florida program and some, shall we say, questionable coaching decisions by the Auburn staff last weekend. Winning is winning though and Tiger fans should understand that all too well from this 2021 season’s experience. The Tigers will be facing a Gamecock team with belief, true belief, for the first time in a while. If the Gamecocks hope to turn the tide and end the streak, they may not have a better chance than this one.
I don’t think I have to tell you how insufferable the next 12 months will be if the Tigers fail to win. The good news is Clemson’s strengths match up well to what gives the Gamecocks serious problems. The bad news is this game is on the road and Clemson has not played as well defensively on the road. The Gamecocks want to get this game to the fourth quarter with a chance, and the Tigers need to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Clemson offense vs. U of SC defense: This Gamecock defense can be had. Why Auburn decided to do anything other than give Tank Bigsby the ball, particularly on their final drive of the game, is one of life’s great mysteries. Missouri’s Tyler Badie ran for 208 yards on them. Texas A&M put two backs over 100 yards. They are giving up 170.9 yards a game and 4.6 yards per carry. Clemson has to be able to run the ball and should be able to run the ball on this defense.
The one thing South Carolina has done very well this season is turn people over. They have gotten 14 interceptions and recovered 9 of 15 opponent fumbles. They have 3 pick sixes. By contrast, Clemson’s defense has produced 9 interceptions, no pick sixes, and recovered just 8 of 19 opponent fumbles. If South Carolina is going to win this game, they will have to get turnovers like they have been and either score directly or set themselves up in Clemson territory.
This Gamecock team has been outgained and outscored by a considerable margin — aside from the Florida game, they’ve endured mainly close wins and blowout losses. Clemson simply has to not beat itself and the game plan from last week’s thrashing of Wake Forest should be the formula once again. While this Gamecock defense is more talented than Wake’s overall, they don’t have the luxury of Wake’s offense to provide margin of error.
Run Shipley and Pace and mix in some play action to Beaux Collins and Davis Allen. Get the lead like last week and then unleash the defense on a very suspect pass blocking OL. I’m sure the Gamecocks will take their chances with leaving their corners on islands and bringing a safety down into the box. Wake Forest did that and DJ was able to connect on a huge TD pass to Beaux Collins. He had Dacari Collins wide open on an earlier possession but made the wrong read and threw into double-coverage where the single safety had gone.
The Clemson OL played its best game of the season by a sizeable margin last week. Getting Will Putnam back at RG made a huge difference and the Tigers did a ton of damage going inside zone and outside zone with counters to that side of the field.
DJU had another game with some accuracy yips, but his one turnover was a ball that Dacari Collins should have caught and let bounce off his facemask. His first big throw to Beaux demonstrated that special talent he possesses as he shook off two sack attempts and threw off his back foot about 50 yards. The TD to Beaux was as good as a fade as you could ever hope to see. Hopefully this will be the week that his RPO skinny post throws are on the money because those are going to be there with what the Gamecocks are going to have to do to try to stop the run.
Clemson defense vs. U of SC offense: There is no reason in the world that the Gamecocks should be able to sniff 20 points without a lot of help from Clemson. U of SC is even more run dependent than Clemson and pass protects poorly. They are playing their third team, FCS transfer quarterback and don’t have very much outside of Josh Vann you could call a perimeter threat. Clemson’s defense is built to stop the run and very, very few teams have had much success without taking advantage of the Tigers having to play too many snaps. They don’t have Malik Cunningham back there, though they do try to simulate some of that with Dakereon Joyner as a wildcat QB. Their running backs are the strength of their team, but Clemson’s defense has increased its TFL and sack production during the November winning streak. Clemson’s secondary should be able to handle Vann and the Gamecock skill after handling the Wake Forest skill for the majority of the day last week. Wake’s best moments came when they were running plays at warp speed and managed to create a few missed tackles in space. This Gamecock offense is likely only going to feature tempo sparingly because they know they can’t risk their defense having to be out there too much.
The 5 in a row U of SC put up from 2009-13 all featured them dominating time of possession, running the ball, and turning the Tigers over. Clemson’s defense has to stop the run, primarily Zaquandre White, and force the Gamecocks to pass protect where they will be totally outclassed by Clemson’s defensive front and pressure packages the way Wake Forest’s better OL was last week.
Special Teams: We got to see Will Brown’s crowning achievement as a Clemson Tiger before it was wiped out by what was determined as a fair catch signal. It showed the potential that the Tigers can still break a big punt return. B.T. Potter nailed another 50-yarder and set the Clemson record for kicks from 50+. Will Spiers actually got a rare slow day for him in 2021 with just one punt. I’ve said it here a lot that upsets usually feature something in special teams going awry for the favorite. You have to think the Gamecocks are going to come after a punt block or pull some kind of trick to try to swing this phase in their favor. The Tigers just need to be sound as they have been the majority of the season.
Overall: I have a hard time thinking the Gamecocks are going to suddenly become great run defenders this week. The Gamecocks may have found a running game of their own, but the Tigers are built to stop the run like the UGA and Texas A&M defenses who throttled the Gamecock attack. It all comes down to ball security and paying off the defense for stops, which the Tigers finally did a good job of vs. Wake Forest. We will get treated to all the most annoying Gamecock stuff like the crowing chicken and the towels, but ultimately it is Clemson vs. Clemson and the Tigers just need to not beat themselves. Let’s make it 7!
Clemson 33-U of SC 15