The South Carolina-Clemson game, nicknamed the Palmetto State Rivalry, will take place Saturday at 7 pm in Clemson’s Death Valley. While this instate rivalry doesn’t hold the national attention like some other notable southern rivalries like the Iron Bowl or UF/FSU, its nonetheless just as bitter of a matchup to those in South Carolina who attended these schools. Don’t believe me that these two teams hate each other? Take a look at the mayhem that ensued in 2004:
The two universities are separated by 132 miles and have played each other 107 times with their first meeting on the gridiron in 1896. It’s the longest uninterrupted rivalry in the South with the teams playing each other every single year since 1909. Over the entire span of this rivalry, Clemson leads the series 65-38-4.
It is without question that South Carolina has enjoyed one their most successful seasons in the history of the program. Winning the SEC East at South Carolina was always Spurrier’s goal and in his sixth year as head coach he has managed to achieve this, clinching the title in Gainesville against his alma mater and the school he formerly coached. Clemson on the other hand, has endured a thoroughly disappointing season with a 6-5 record with only one win on the road against a weak Wake Forest team. However, when it comes to the battle of the Palmetto State, expect both teams to come out sharp, excited, and ready to play. Regardless of what they have accomplished year to date, this game means a lot to both teams. Here is my take on what will happen Saturday night.
When South Carolina Has the Ball…
The offense of South Carolina has been anchored by their prolific running game led by the sensational true freshman running back, Marcus Lattimore. The South Carolina native has had an immediate impact on the team’s offense as he has been the difference maker in the majority of their games. Lattimore has amassed an astounding 1,066 yards on 209 carries through 11 games this season. In South Carolina’s biggest three victories this year (UGA, Alabama, UF) Lattimore has averaged 33 carries for 162 yards. Look for South Carolina to establish their running game early especially against a relatively weak Clemson linebackers corps.
I also anticipate the passing game will open later in the game for South Carolina. Quarterback Stephen Garcia has found more success in passing the ball effectively this year due to the offenses’ ability to establish the run. He’ll connect numerous times with his big athletic receivers in Alshon Jeffery standing at 6-4, 235 lbs and Tori Gurley at 6.5, 230 lbs. Jeffrey averages about 17 yards a reception and is dangerous on the deep ball due his size and speed. I believe that even with Clemson double teaming Jeffrey; he will still present problems to Clemson’s secondary. However, the success of South Carolina’s passing game will be predicated upon their ability to protect Garcia. The front four of Clemson is formidable led by Daquan Bowers and Brandon Thompson. This Clemson defensive line is as good as South Carolina has faced all year. The Gamecocks’ will have their hands full facing this group in the trenches.
One question that has been repeatedly speculated on by the fanbases of both teams is how many carries will Lattimore get on Saturday? With South Carolina playing Auburn the next week for the SEC title, the Ole Ball Coach knows he’ll need Lattimore fresh, healthy, and ready to run the ball at least 30+ times. It’s been their template for success all season. I think with one eye on the game in Atlanta, Lattimore will get more like 15-18 carries and South Carolina will revert more to their passing game. Either way, the Clemson Tigers defense will have to be on top of their game in order to contain South Carolina’s offensive weapons.
When Clemson Has the Ball…
Clemson’s offense has been all but consistent this year. With running back Andre Ellington out due to injury, Jamie Harper has had to shoulder the load the past few games being fairly successful. Last week against Wake Forest, Harper managed 142 yards on 24 carries but it was against a very weak defense. The Clemson Tigers will need to have a really strong performance out of Jamie Harper this weekend to keep things close. Should Clemson have to rely solely on their passing game it could be a very long night for the Tigers. Kyle Parker’s mistakes and inconsistency paired with Clemson’s young wide receivers have caused the passing game to be very unpredictable. No receiver has emerged as the true go to man, and scoring touchdowns in the red zone has been a problem throughout the year. Basically, Clemson’s offense faces a number of questions going into this game especially against a very talented South Carolina defense ranked 36th in points allowed and 2nd in sacks. Should Clemson look to turn things around on offense, it’s imperative the O-line protect Parker and with that protection, Kyle Parker plays the entire game mistake free. Any turnovers against this talented South Carolina team will be detrimental to Clemson.
One final thing to emphasize with Clemson is that the game is at home, in Death Valley, at night. This fact doesn’t mitigate the uncertainty of Clemson’s ability to put points on the board, but it will give the Tigers a much needed confidence boost as the atmosphere of Clemson Memorial stadium will be incredible. I think this one will be closer, probably closer than most think.
As a Clemson graduate, it’s hard to say this but I think South Carolina takes this one but by the slimmest of margins…
Clemson 20, South Carolina 21