Clemson Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks: Complete Game Preview

Greg WallaceFeatured Columnist IVApril 12, 2017

Clemson Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks: Complete Game Preview

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    Clemson has lost four consecutive games to South Carolina under Dabo Swinney.
    Clemson has lost four consecutive games to South Carolina under Dabo Swinney.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Last week’s results

    No. 6 Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) beat The Citadel 52-6.

    South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 SEC) beat Coastal Carolina 70-10.

     

    Can Clemson and Dabo Swinney snap the South Carolina hex?

    Dabo Swinney has accomplished plenty in his five seasons as Clemson’s full-time head coach. He has 50 wins. He has an ACC title. He has won or shared three ACC Atlantic Division titles. Clemson has three consecutive 10-win seasons, the program’s longest streak since 1987-90, and has been ranked in the Top 10 for 14 consecutive weeks, the longest streak in program history.

    But one nagging problem remains. Since a 31-14 win in 2008 that sealed his elevation from interim to full-time leader, Swinney is 0-4 against South Carolina. All four losses have come by double digits, with last season’s 27-17 South Carolina win Clemson’s closest margin.

    The Gamecocks are currently riding their longest win streak in the series, tying their run from 1951-54; a win Saturday would be an unprecedented (for USC) fifth straight in the series.

    Swinney says wins over South Carolina don’t define his legacy, but he’s well aware of the streak and badly wants to break it.

    “That’s why they call it bragging rights,” he said. “We’ve got to live with this one. Everybody in the state lives with it. Everybody wants those bragging rights. They’ve been the better team. They’ve outplayed us and outcoached us. We’ve got to play to our full potential. That’s what we’ve not done, and we have to get it done.”

    Swinney says his team simply must be more consistent to emerge from Columbia victorious.

    “I think we’ve had a great year,” he said. “The thing for me, I want to see us play well. People don’t like it when I say that, but I’m not focused on the scoreboard. I’m more concerned with how we play. I know if we play the right way consistently, the scoreboard takes care of itself.”

     

    Can the Tigers’ offensive line contain Jadeveon Clowney?

    Clowney, South Carolina’s standout junior defensive end, was unstoppable a year ago. He had 4.5 sacks, a Memorial Stadium record, and terrorized All-ACC left tackle Brandon Thomas as well as the rest of Clemson’s offensive line.

    Clowney has struggled with injuries and inconsistency: He has only two sacks through nine games after piling up 13.5 a year ago. But you’d better believe he still has Clemson’s respect.

    “He’s a great player,” Swinney said. “I don’t care what the numbers say. He’s a load to handle. He is as advertised. He’s very talented. Incredibly disruptive. We have to have a plan for him.”

    Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris suggested this week that his offense would use a tight end or tailback more often to help Thomas block and "chip" Clowney. Thomas has studied 2012’s film and feels like he is better prepared for another meeting.

    “You study your film, your past film, so you can correct things,” he said. “I did some things well and I didn’t do some things well. Looking to this year, I’m going to look back at that film and try and correct some things.”

    He also feels he has improved overall from a year ago.

    “I think it’s being more physical,” he said. “Last year I don’t think I was as physical as I am now. My technique has gotten better. Those two things will help me go a long way in this game.”

    Clowney moves all over the line, so stopping both he and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (seven sacks) will be a task for the entire offensive line, not just Thomas.

     

    Can Clemson keep South Carolina’s offense off the field?

    The best way to stop Chad Morris’ high-powered, hurry-up, no-huddle offense (averaging 42.3 points and 515.6 yards per game)? Keep it off the field. That’s exactly what South Carolina did a year ago. The Gamecocks held the ball for 39:58 and limited Clemson to 19 second-half snaps, turning a 14-10 halftime deficit into a 27-17 win.

    South Carolina converted 11 of 21 third downs and frustrated the Tigers offense consistently.

    Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables knows his unit has to control the trenches to get the Tigers offense back on the field regularly.

    “You’ve got to win at the line of scrimmage. If they’re chewing clock, that means they’re probably running the ball very effectively,” he said. “ You don’t have to chew up a whole bunch of yards to run the ball effectively. Coach (Steve) Spurrier is very patient. They win a lot of tight ballgames through the years. Not just this year. Since he’s been at South Carolina, that’s been his mode of operation.”

    Time: 7 p.m. ET, Saturday

    Place: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.

    TV: ESPN2

    Radio: Clemson and South Carolina radio networks (regional).

    Spread: South Carolina -5 via vegasinsider.com

    *Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

Clemson Keys to Victory

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    Tajh Boyd has established himself as one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
    Tajh Boyd has established himself as one of the nation's top quarterbacks.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Keep Tajh Boyd upright

    The Tigers’ standout senior quarterback has struggled mightily against South Carolina in both of his career starts. In 2011, he completed just 11 of 29 passes for 83 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 34-13 loss. Last fall, he completed 11 of 24 passes for 183 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 27-17 defeat.

    In both games, he and Clemson’s offensive line struggled with pressure against strong, talented South Carolina defensive lines.

    South Carolina ranks 17th nationally in pass yardage allowed, but if Boyd has time to connect with deep threats Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, it could change the game’s complexion quickly.

     

    Get off the field

    Clemson’s defense has taken another step forward following a solid finish to 2012. The Tigers are allowing 20.2 points per game (down from 24.7 a year ago), 353.8 total yards per game (408.1 a year ago), 200.1 yards per game passing (244.1 a year ago) and 153.7 yards rushing (163.1 a year ago).

    But it will have to play its best game against a balanced South Carolina offense.

    A year ago, backup quarterback Dylan Thompson converted 11 of 21 third downs against Clemson, and the Gamecocks held the ball for 39:58. Clemson’s third-down defense has been improved this season (allowing 29.6 percent opponent conversions compared with 32.6 in 2012). It’ll have to be equally impressive Saturday night.

     

    Force South Carolina mistakes

    South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has been exceptionally efficient this season. He has thrown 20 touchdowns against just one interception. As a team, the Gamecocks have just 15 turnovers through 11 games. Turnover margin has been a big key to Clemson’s success this season: The Tigers have forced 26 turnovers while committing only 17 through 11 games.

    If Clemson can create mistakes and build an early lead, it could be a huge key to success in Williams-Brice Stadium, where South Carolina has won 17 consecutive games, the longest current home winning streak in America.

South Carolina Keys to Victory

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    Mike Davis is one of the SEC's top tailbacks.
    Mike Davis is one of the SEC's top tailbacks.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Control the clock with the ground game

    Sophomore tailback Mike Davis (the younger brother of former Clemson standout James Davis) has developed into one of the SEC’s top rushers with 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw is also mobile; with 417 yards, he is the Gamecocks’ second-leading rusher.

    If South Carolina can bleed clock with the run game and keep Clemson’s high-powered offense off the field, it is a victory no matter how many points the ground game ultimately accounts for.

     

    Keep Sammy Watkins in check

    Clemson’s star junior receiver is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate receiver. He has 1,144 yards and 10 touchdowns, with 14 plays of 20-plus yards and two catches for 90-plus yards.

    However, he has struggled against the Gamecocks. He had four catches for 39 yards as a freshman and four catches for 37 yards last November. If South Carolina can limit his touches and limit the damage that Watkins causes in the deep passing game, it stands a much better chance of surviving Clemson’s potent offensive attack.

     

    Finish strong

    Despite South Carolina’s recent dominance, Clemson actually scored first in three of the last four seasons and led last season at halftime, 14-10. But South Carolina has owned the second half. Over the past four years, USC has outscored Clemson 61-16 in the second half. If the Gamecocks can continue that trend, they stand a much better chance of taking an unprecedented fifth consecutive win over their archrival.

Clemson Players to Watch

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    Clemson junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins is one of college football's top pass-catching threats.
    Clemson junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins is one of college football's top pass-catching threats.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    Senior QB Tajh Boyd

    Boyd is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Clemson and ACC history. He’s the ACC’s all-time passing touchdowns leader and second in passing yardage, and he owns over 50 Clemson and ACC records. But he has yet to beat South Carolina, which he admits “we have to find a way to get done.” Boyd passed for just 83 yards in 2011 and 183 a year ago, and he has two touchdowns against three interceptions against USC in two starts. He’ll have to improve those numbers to give his team a chance.

     

    Junior WR Sammy Watkins

    Watkins is one of the nation’s most explosive, dangerous receivers and a likely top-15 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He has 1,144 yards and 10 touchdowns with 78 receptions. He leads the ACC in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and is second in receptions. But he has just eight catches for 76 yards in two career games against South Carolina and will need a much bigger impact, especially in the downfield passing game.

     

    Junior DE Vic Beasley

    Beasley has enjoyed a breakout junior season. He has 10 sacks (tied for second in the ACC) and 17 tackles for loss (tied for third in the ACC). He is a dangerous pass-rusher who uses his speed to juke left tackles consistently. He hasn’t had a sack in the Tigers’ last three games, but two of those came against option teams, which limited his opportunities.

South Carolina Players to Watch

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    USC junior end Jadeveon Clowney is one of the nation's top pass-rushers.
    USC junior end Jadeveon Clowney is one of the nation's top pass-rushers.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Junior DE Jadeveon Clowney

    Clowney has struggled with injuries and inconsistency following an outstanding sophomore season. He has 32 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in nine games. By comparison, a year ago he had 23.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. However, he dominated Clemson a year ago with 4.5 sacks and will surely be motivated to face the Tigers again in what could be his final home game.

     

    Senior QB Connor Shaw

    Shaw is a consummate leader. He has 1,983 passing yards with 20 touchdowns against one interception and has added 417 rushing yards with four scores. Even more impressive has been his ability to fight through injuries; he came off the bench to lead a comeback for an overtime win at Missouri that has kept the Gamecocks in the SEC East title picture.

     

    Sophomore RB Mike Davis

    Davis is the younger brother of former Clemson star James Davis, the Tigers’ No. 2 all-time rusher. Clemson probably wishes it had recruited Mike harder. He has 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also has 30 receptions for 332 yards. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables compares him to former Tiger running back Andre Ellington for his ability to score at any moment.

What They Are Saying

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    Tajh Boyd needs a win over South Carolina to cap his collegiate legacy.
    Tajh Boyd needs a win over South Carolina to cap his collegiate legacy.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    “We haven’t gone out and performed the way we’re capable of performing. We want to play like we’re capable of playing, but it’s not about them. It’s about what we do and playing to our standard. That’s what we have to do. There’s no excuses. For us, we’ve got a lot of things at stake. We have to find a way to get it done.” – Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, on getting a win over South Carolina.

     

     

    “It’s painful in a relative term from a football sense, yes. But I don’t draw joy in my life from a football game. Joy comes from faith, family, looking in the mirror and knowing I did the best I could do, living life the way I know I can live it. Lots of people have real pain, and you have to have perspective. Is it painful because I feel like I let everyone down? Sure. Everyone wants to win. But that’s the way it is. I’ve been part of rivalries forever and you live with it for 365 days.” – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, on the failure to beat South Carolina in four tries.

     

     

    “They’re not Johnny come lately when it comes to winning. There’s been a recipe for success for them, and it’s been difficult for opposing teams to crack the code. That’s the challenge for us, and we’re excited about that challenge. And it’s a difficult one but one our guys are looking forward to.” – Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables on South Carolina’s offense.

Prediction

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    Clemson's offense is among the nation's best over the last three seasons.
    Clemson's offense is among the nation's best over the last three seasons.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    Clemson has accomplished plenty over the past four years, but a win over South Carolina is not on Dabo Swinney’s resume. The Tigers offense has struggled to find consistency over the past two seasons, scoring 23 combined points. However, senior quarterback Tajh Boyd has learned from his experiences against the Gamecocks and has two talented deep threats in Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.

    The Tigers defense has improved steadily over the past two seasons, and outside a disastrous outing against Florida State, it has been the most improved part of Clemson’s overall roster.

    Winning in Williams-Brice Stadium, where South Carolina has won 17 straight, will be no easy task. But if Clemson can contain standout end Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of South Carolina’s defensive line and give Boyd time to throw, the Tigers stand a chance. Keep the Gamecocks offense off the field consistently and the streak stands a real shot at ending.

    Clemson 34, South Carolina 24.

     

    Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace