Today we are joined by Alan Cole of South Carolina’s Rivals site as he gives us the lowdown on the Gamecocks as we head into Saturday’s rivalry matchup.
1) Both Clemson and South Carolina haven’t had the season that fans quite hoped for, but both have made major turnarounds in November. What has been the catalyst for this turnaround for South Carolina?
Part of it has been getting three straight games at Williams-Brice Stadium to start the month, but the main thing has been finally getting some productive play from the defense. They have not completely gone away from their base 4-2-5 defense, but they have started mixing in a lot more 3-3-5 looks which seems to suit the personnel better. It was a package they first started using in a loss at Texas A&M and have mixed in a little bit more every week since, helping to mitigate some of the depth issues at defensive tackle and getting three linebackers on the field when the linebacker room has been the strength of the defense so far this year. That, combined with having the same five offensive linemen start in three straight games for the first time all year, has created some continuity on offense and a more balanced team overall.
2) Last year’s upset of Clemson had Gamecock fans extremely excited for the future and what Shane Beamer could bring. What is the current fan feeling about Beamer and the program? How would that change if Clemson wins Saturday?
There is obvious disappointment with the way this season has gone, but I think a general understanding from the rational part of the fanbase that this year was always going to be a bit of a step back. Expectations were inflated by those two wins over Tennessee and Clemson to end last year, but this team is starting two true freshmen on the offensive line, a true freshman at safety and is playing a ton of underclassmen at almost every position on the field. A truly brutal offensive line injury situation — starting left tackle Jaylen Nichols went down for the year in the spring game and starting right tackle Cason Henry has only played in two games — has created some understanding that this was going to be a year of growing pains. As for Saturday nobody would be happy with a 5-7 season and a loss to Clemson, but this team rebounding from 2-6 overall to get to 5-6 and set up a chance at a bowl in the finale still has the overall vibe around the program in stable condition, in my opinion.
3) Spencer Rattler and Tonka Hemingway have been the faces of the Gamecocks this year, but who else should Tiger fans be keeping their eye on during this game?
Xavier Legette is the biggest name to know. He is now second in program history for single-season receiving yards only behind Alshon Jeffery’s 2010 year, and he almost single-handedly made the offensive difference against Kentucky last week catching both touchdowns from Ratter. Elsewhere on offense Mario Anderson Jr. has taken over as the lead running back and after taking some time to adjust as a Division II transfer from Newberry, has settled in. Defensively linebacker Debo Williams is the other key name to know; he has been the emotional leader in the middle all year and crossed over the 100-tackle threshold for the season against Kentucky. Safety Nick Emmanwori was a freshman All-American last season and has found his footing again after a bit of a sophomore slump, including grabbing his first interception of the season against the Wildcats.
4) What must South Carolina do to win this game? If Clemson wins, what will be the reasons?
Turnovers. It is something of a luck-based stat and they can come in bunches, but after not forcing one the entire month of October the Gamecocks have created nine in the last three games and won all three weeks. Right there is a chance for South Carolina to grab a couple short fields and take advantage. That is one start, and then the combination of Rattler and Legette will be the other reason. Every single time South Carolina has needed an answer on offense this season and actually found one, it has been those two right in the thick of making the big plays. The recipe feels very similar to how South Carolina just took out Kentucky, forcing two turnovers and force-feeding the ball to the best receiver on the field in crunch time.
5) And finally, how do you see this one playing out?
I might change my mind later in the week, but right now it feels like Clemson is the better team. As much as South Carolina’s offensive line has been better this month, it has still had major issues all season and struggled to block all of the best fronts on its schedule. I think Clemson gets enough pressure on Rattler to make him uncomfortable, finds just enough offensively with Mafah and Shipley setting the pace and squeaks out a 27-24 win.
Thanks so much Alan for joining us and talking ball. You can follow Alan on twitter @Alan__Cole.