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Palmetto Bowl Preview: Clemson Looks for 8 in a Row Over the Gamecocks

Can Clemson Continue its Dominance?

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings STS folks. I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving. I’m certainly thankful for many, many things and being a part of this community is one of them. The time has finally come again for Clemson to host arch rival USCjr (have to rebrand them again!) in Death Valley for the first time since 2018. This game has taken on a little different look since the seemingly out of nowhere offensive explosion the Gamecocks enjoyed over previously #5 Tennessee. I’m in the camp of this being a positive for Clemson because any miniscule chance the Tigers might take this game more lightly should be completely erased. Clemson is also looking to extend its ACC record home winning streak and keep its playoff chances alive. More importantly, keeping the Gamecocks securely in their little brother position is a top priority.

Clemson offense vs. USC defense: Clemson really played pretty well overall on offense last week except for once again turning the ball over too many times. Miami worked hard to force DJU to beat them and his legs produced several big runs when they over-pursued Will Shipley and Phil Mafah on the zone reads. There were also a couple of really nice play action shots down the seams. While the Tigers were able to crack 40 points, there was still a lot more meat on the bone if not for plays like Spector’s drop and Allen’s fumble deep in Miami territory. Still, if the Tiger offense can stake a two or three score lead for the defense, there aren’t very many teams out there who can get out of that hole.

Clemson is built to hurt the Gamecocks the way Missouri and Florida hurt them. The Clemson offensive line, even down starter Marcus Tate, should be able to come right at the Gamecock front and force their safeties to make plays while having to also worry about Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool getting behind them. Clemson’s running game gashed the Gamecocks last year in Columbia and should be in prime position to do so again provided the Tigers hold on to the football. I fully expect the Gamecocks to put their corners on islands and take their chances there in hopes of outnumbering Clemson in the box. The chances will be there for Clemson to hit some big plays if the WR, especially Ngata, Collins, or Randall, can finally win on the outside vs. man coverage.

Tennessee had to feel a lot like Clemson felt in the ill-fated Orange Bowl vs. West Virginia. Their defense wasn’t ready to play and their electric offense was forced to be perfect to keep up and eventually could not. The Tigers certainly don’t want to have this game become a shootout the way 2018 did because we all know this offense can’t operate nearly as easily as that dominant 2018 group could. Clemson is built to be efficient on offense and live with the 3-7 yard gains on most plays while staying ahead of the chains. This works really well when the Tigers take care of the football, and they are long overdue to do that again after four weeks of multiple turnovers. The Gamecocks need turnover help to give themselves a shot in this game.

The Gamecocks are not great at getting after the quarterback and getting TFLs, especially compared to defenses like Florida State, Louisville, and Notre Dame. They have had to blitz to try to get pressure. Tennessee’s offense is certainly more explosive than Clemson’s, but at the same time it is much simpler to accommodate its break-neck pace. They really don’t do a lot of things, they just do them very fast and usually very effectively. Clemson is much more multiple in its personnel groupings, formations, and motions and will force the Gamecock’s defense to get lined up correctly. Tennessee runs almost exclusively out of 11 personnel while Clemson varies from 11, 12, 21, 22, and empty sets. This doesn’t make success a given, but it certainly presents a different set of challenges for the Gamecock defense.

Clemson’s offense just needs to start the game strong the way it did against Louisville and Miami so that the Gamecocks feel the pressure to try to keep pace. Obviously any early success the Gamecocks have will only feed into their momentum from last week. However, that team is the same team that looked like a JV squad in Gainesville and had folks buying shirts calling to fire their offensive coordinator. Feed Will Shipley, Phil Mafah, and Kobe Pace!

Clemson defense vs. USC offense: I’ve spent most of the season feeling like this would once again be a complete mismatch on this side of the ball. If your offensive line isn’t strong, you really don’t have much hope of holding up against the Clemson front 7. Notre Dame was good in the right spots to play ball control, but the Gamecocks are not built to do that at all. They feasted on explosives last week with at least five “hero” throw/catches by Rattler and their WR. They ran it better than they usually do and enough to keep the lackluster Tennessee defense off balance.

Clemson has to make sure the Gamecocks really have no hope of running the football on first or second down. I’m sure they will get the kitchen sink of trick plays and wildcat stuff as the Gamecocks have to be creative to generate much run game against any above average defense. Marshawn Lloyd is expected to play and can make something out of nothing better than their other personnel running the ball, but Clemson’s inside DT’s should have their way with Bryan Bresee back in action to go with Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro, and company. KJ Henry has produced a 1st team All-ACC season while Myles Murphy is always capable of wrecking an offense even though his season has been more modest compared to expectations.

Clemson’s defense has really played some dominant football since that bad night up in South Bend. Sheridan Jones has helped solidify the corner spot opposite Nate Wiggins and it appears Wes Goodwin has finally got his LB corps dialed into the right spots to be most effective. Trenton Simpson’s best trait by far is his ability to blitz and get after the quarterback while Barrett Carter has proven to be a more instinctive player in that WILL position. We saw Simpson return to action with 2 sacks last week.

Clemson’s defense has totally dominated the Gamecock offense in every game save 2018’s lackluster effort against Jake Bentley. That Gamecock offense also had a future Pro-Bowl guy in Deebo Samuel and another high level guy in Shi Smith. I don’t think this Gamecock offense has two guys quite on that level. And just like that same offense got dominated in its next game against UVA in the Belk Bowl, last week’s performance against Tennessee is not something I think they can hope to replicate without help from turnovers or special teams.

Special Teams: The Gamecocks know they have to win this phase to beat teams like Clemson. To their credit, they have invested a great deal into making this a place they can get big plays. This was Shane Beamer’s father’s formula for helping get his Virginia Tech program up and running. They have had explosive kick returns and punt returns as well as several blocked kicks and successful fake punts. Clemson has been mostly good in this phase but haven’t blocked a kick since the early part of the season and had that really bad blocked punt that set Notre Dame’s upset into motion. The upside is that the Gamecocks have had to show probably everything they have in their bag and the Tigers should be able to prepare for it. There isn’t a question of if the Gamecocks will try something in the kicking game but when. Clemson just needs to stuff one of these efforts like they did against Alabama in the 2019 title game because being aggressive in your kicking game can backfire.

Overall: It is hard to put a finger on the Shane Beamer Gamecocks. They have had some seemingly out of nowhere good days like last year’s wins over Florida and UNC, as well as this year’s wins over Texas A&M (overrated as the Aggies clearly are) and especially Tennessee. They have also looked completely helpless in some games and even returned some of their ticket allotment to this year’s game when another loss seemed guaranteed after their loss to Florida. Clemson, of course, is about as steady a program as you will ever see with 12 straight seasons with 10 or more wins. While Rattler and his skill guys definitely showed out last week, I have to maintain that Clemson’s dominant front seven on defense and ability to run the football makes this a bad matchup for the Gamecocks.

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