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South Carolina Game Review: Position Group Ratings

Dabo and the boys collect rent in Williams-Brice as the Tigers defeat the Gamecocks 16-7 in a slugfest.

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Everything is right in the world again as the Clemson Tigers took down the South Carolina Gamecocks in Williams-Brice on Saturday night. The victory marked the 54th time that Clemson has beat Carolina in Columbia, which is more than Carolina has total wins in the series with 43. Let’s review the game and analyze how each position group performed on the day. These ratings are my own and are subjective, so don’t take them to be an exact science, and remember to leave your thoughts in the comment section!

Quarterback - 4

Cade Klubnik had a sub-par night in Williams-Brice. For his sake, the inability to find any rhythm in the passing game did not result in a loss. His final stat line for the night was 15 of 27 for 100 yards with 0 touchdowns and an interception. His biggest positive was that he added 52 yards on the ground–his most in a game this season. Klubnik was hesitant all night on his reads and never looked comfortable throwing the ball. The jump ball he threw to Tyler Brown in the endzone for the interception was not a great decision.

Running Backs - 8

Will Shipley and Phil Mafah were once again the workhorses for the Clemson offense as they wore down the South Carolina defense on Saturday night. The duo was never able to turn any opportunities into points, but they ran well enough to give Clemson a momentum and field position edge. Mafah led the Tigers with 89 yards on 19 carries while Shipley had 80 yards on 15 carries. Combined, they averaged 5 yards per carry on the South Carolina defense. Shipley added 4 catches for 32 yards in the passing game as well. These two backs have been a consistent bright spot for the offense all season.

Wide Receivers - 3

I thought the wide receivers had a pretty poor game against the Gamecocks. The injuries have mounted up for this group, but you would expect them to perform better against a South Carolina defense who gave up 260 yards/game through the air. The Clemson receivers combined had 6 catches for 45 yards on the night. The only play of >5 yards for this group was Tyler Brown’s 39-yard contested catch.

Tight Ends - 4

The tight ends had a quiet night as well as the Clemson offense did not offer much in the passing game. Josh Sapp surprisingly led the tight ends with 2 catches for 10 yards. The most memorable play from this group was a big, dropped pass by a wide-open Olsen Patt-Henry that would have pushed the driving Tigers into the red zone. I thought going into the game that Briningstool could be a matchup nightmare against the Gamecocks, but it wasn’t to be for this group on Saturday night.

Offensive Line - 8

The offensive line provided enough push against the Gamecocks to induce another inspired running performance. With Harris Sewell and Collin Sadler settling into their roles at guard, the big uglies were able to pave the way for the Tigers to run for 219 total yards on the night. When Clemson is able to run for 200 yards against any team, it usually results in a Tiger victory–and Saturday was no different. This is the 3rd straight game where the Tigers were able to rush for 200 yards. The offensive line only gave up one sack and protected Cade well enough.

Offense - 5.4

The Tiger offense did not play a great game in the context of moving the ball quickly and scoring points (they didn’t even score a single touchdown), however, they did what they needed to do to win the game. The offense was able to put up 319 total yards and as I mentioned before, 200 yards on the ground–which usually equals success. This offensive output was surprisingly not the lowest of the season–that coming against Notre Dame with 285. Even though the offense was not impressing anyone with the “eye-test,” it moved the ball enough to put the Tigers in field goal range and set them up to flip the field position on multiple occasions. It was a performance that Danny Ford would have been proud of.

With the hiring of Garrett Riley in the offseason, fans were expecting an offensive system that would create explosive plays. The inability for the offense on Saturday to create any momentum through the air was disappointing–and dreadful to watch. Whether it be receiver injuries or inexperience all around, there are no excuses for that poor of a passing performance. The reasons for this poor display will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the coaching staff as these problems will be the top priority to correct in the offseason.

Defensive Line - 9

The defensive line mauled the offensive front for South Carolina all night. Spencer Rattler’s jersey had turned a different color before halftime–the defensive line being the culprit. They were able to set the keep the Gamecocks from having virtually any success on the ground. The Gamecocks were held to 57 yards on the ground and 2.4 yards per carry. Ruke Orhorhoro had a sack on Rattler where he bullied the lineman and steamrolled Rattler like he was a bump in the road. Both ends, Xavier Thomas and TJ Parker had great games as well. You have to feel good for XT getting the last laugh on his biggest enemy. Parker concluded the defensive performance with massive hit on Rattler to force an incompletion and end South Carolina’s chances of winning the game.

Linebackers - 8

This group played well enough on the night to earn a high rating even though there are not a multitude of noteworthy plays. Anytime you contribute to holding a team over 200 yards below their season average, you are playing well. Trotter did not lead the team in tackles for once, but he did get his hits in on Rattler–which count for something. Carter will want to burn the film on the lone Carolina scoring drive. He was out of place on about every play and tripped up Tyler Davis who could have stopped the touchdown on 4th down. He made up for it with a clutch sack later in the game.

Cornerbacks - 9

Nate Wiggins and Avieon Terrell are absolute dawgs. There is no receiver corps in the nation that is going to have success against those two. They both had a hand in keeping Carolina stud Xavier Legette in check on Saturday night. Legette ended the game with a mere 6 catches for 68 yards–which was arguably the most successful Gamecock player in the game. Both Terrell and Wiggins weigh about 50 pounds less than Legette, and neither backed down from the physical challenge. Terrell made an excellent stop on the goal line to prevent Legette from scoring. Wiggins also had his big hits on Legette. Excellent performance yet again by our CBs.

Safeties - 10

Khalil Barnes called “game” after 3 plays. The freshmen safety started the game with a scoop-n-score on a backwards pass from Rattler that he was able to collect and jog into the endzone. On the next play from scrimmage, he intercepted Rattler on a deep ball where he dove backwards acrobatically and plucked the ball from the air. Those two plays set the tone before a minute had even run off the clock–and the Gamecocks were never able to recover. Khalil Barnes wrote himself into Clemson legend as he single-handedly ruined the script for the Gamecocks on Saturday night.

Defense - 9.0

The gameplan against Carolina was obviously to lean on the defense. Dabo even said that the gameplan was similar to what would have been used by Alabama in the 90s. The defense set the tone early and reminded the Carolina offense of who was in charge. South Carolina had one offensive possession in the 1st quarter where they had success with some draw plays that led to a touchdown. Even then, when your opponent has to line up on 4th and 1 and try a double reverse trick play, you know you have control. Following that touchdown drive, the Tiger defense forced 8 consecutive punts followed by a turnover on downs to end the game. That is what you call domination.

The way this defense has shutdown opposing quarterbacks the last couple weeks has been nothing short of amazing. Spencer Rattler was held to a 79.3 pass efficiency rating–the lowest of any game in his college career. The pairing of the defensive front creating pressure on the quarterback and the secondary playing tight coverage has been smothering for opponents. What a pleasure to watch.

Special Teams - 10

Kicker Jonathan Weitz took his opportunity to spoil the party against his childhood archrival. The graduate student, who found his way on the team following a call from Dabo Swinney after the season had started, went 3 for 3 on the night. The average distance of the made kicks was 47 yards–with the longest being a 50-yarder. Dabo finally got the fairy tale ending that he was hoping for with Weitz. Punter Aiden Swanson deserves some recognition for pinning South Carolina within their own 20-yard line on 5 occasions. Dare I say that a Dabo Swinney team out played a Beamer coached team on special teams?

Coaching - 9

To be honest, I considered ranking the coaching at something like 6 because of the fact that our offense did not score a touchdown, however I believe this coaching staff on both sides of the ball deserve credit for the win. I respect the fact that the coaches realized “we may not have our best tonight” when it comes to playmaking ability on the offensive side of the ball–especially considering a portion of the team was dealing with a flu-like virus on the day of the game. They took what was available and devised a gameplan that included pounding the running game, stout defense, and excellent special teams. If those three parts are complimenting each other, then 9 times out of 10, it will be a long night for your opponent, and that is exactly what happened in Williams-Brice.

Also, go ahead and pay Wes Goodwin whatever he needs to be paid to stick around. That performance was so good we might even be able to bring the “Weslichek” moniker back.

Overall Team Performance - 7.3

If you watched the South Carolina game last season, then you know how painful of a loss that was for player, coach, and fan. Not only did the Tigers lose to the Gamecocks at home by a single point, but it also broke the 7-game win streak against them and the longest home win streak in the nation. Prior to that game, Clemson had not lost a home game since the 2016 season. The loss to the Gamecocks provided them the opportunity to flaunt a 1-point win like they had won a national championship (something they will never sniff). The salt in the wound from that game provided enough motivation for the Tigers to want to exact revenge in Williams-Brice on Saturday night.

There were not enough light shows and techno songs in existence to be able to keep the Tigers from winning. Seeing Beamer cry and try all of his antics on the sideline to no avail makes any Tiger smile. The defense smothered. The offense squeaked out enough yardage to get 9 points. The special teams consistently made life difficult for the Gamecocks. The collective effort by the Tigers was inspiring, and it was a joy to watch as the rival fell at home yet again.