After last Saturday’s performance, it is clear that they are headed for that same destiny once again.
Make no mistake: last Saturday’s loss to BC was not a Heisman moment for Matt Ryan—it was the classic "Clemson Meltdown."
After giving up a ridiculous late-game touchdown to Ryan and company, the Tigers were in perfect position to drive down the field: three timeouts left, an accurate quarterback, and receivers and running backs who catch the ball well.
However, after driving into field goal range, Aaron Kelly—the Tigers' number-one receiver—let the ball slip through his hands on what should have been a gorgeous touchdown catch. A few plays later, the Tigers' number-two receiver, Tyler Grisham, dropped a pass of about seven yards.
Finally, to fully complete the meltdown, QB Cullen Harper committed the cardinal sin of the two-minute drive, taking a sack on third down. This forced their normally reliable kicker to kick a career-long 54-yarder, which sadly—but fittingly fell—about 10 feet short.
Game over. Clemson blows their shot at the ACC title…again.
Did I mention Clemson was playing at home? You have to wonder if any of the fans in Death Valley were even surprised.
Making matters worse, Clemson now faces an unpredictable but dangerous South Carolina team. After ripping off a 6-1 start, the Gamecock nation has gone into a funk, as their team lost some very close games, been exposed on defense, suffered injuries, and seemingly lost all confidence.
Unlike Clemson, however, South Carolina has a steady ball coach—the Head Ball Coach actually, who will look to right the ship and close out the year with a strong win. Coming off a much-needed bye week, look for the Gamecocks to be sharp in a game they need to win for bowl eligibility.
Thus, not only will Clemson be in their all-too-regular post-meltdown state of shock, South Carolina will be healthy, rested, and coached by a man not in perpetual lame-duck status.
Look for the sound play of Kenny McKinley to continue, and watch out for two Gamecock receivers who have really come on late in the season: freshman Dion Lecorn and the huge sophomore Jared Cook. Mix in some hard running by Cory Boyd and Mike Davis, and exciting special-teams playmaker Chris Culliver, you have yourself a complete game.
Quarterback Blake Mitchell might be the biggest difference-maker, however. In the last home start of his career, Mitchell would love to go out on top by beating SC’s arch rival. While many would call Mitchell’s career sub-par at best, he has beaten all of the top teams in the SEC, and delivered two excellent games against Clemson.
On the defensive side of the ball, highly valued cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is out for the season, but the rest of the nicked-up defense should be fully healed and out to regain their reputation for tough play. Junior defensive back Stoney Woodson is expected to start in place of Munnerlyn.
I've been to Williams-Brice stadium twice this season. On a Thursday night against Kentucky, the crowd—feeling the high of being ranked in the Top 15—was out of control. The fans were involved the entire game, and the team fed off of it, forcing big plays and making Andre' Woodson look human for the first time all season.
On the flip side, however, Gamecock fans were a disappointment during the Florida contest, seemingly conceding a loss before the game started. Williams-Brice was quiet throughout the game—even as Carolina went ahead 14-13, and by the third quarter, the stadium was almost cleared out.
On top of that, it’s just hard to imagine bowl season without Steve Spurrier.
In the end, the Head Ball Coach will devise a way to surprise Clemson, and Tommy Bowden will have that uncomfortable look back on his face the entire game.
Final Prediction: Gamecocks by 10.