Take it easy Gamecock fans. I’m not calling for a Clemson blowout Saturday night in Death Valley.
What I am saying, however, is that South Carolina had better come prepared for what it will face inside a raucous environment backed by an offense putting up stupid numbers this season. Forget the video game analogies, Clemson’s point producers under offensive coordinator Chad Morris headline a unit that might as well be known as Oregon lite — with more passes.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd has six 300-yard games this season — two 400′s — and is responsible for 32 touchdowns since the Tigers’ national championship-ending road loss at Florida State on Sept. 22. He’s the facilitator in a fast-paced scheme loaded with weapons. Last week against N.C. State, a team that lost to Virginia but upset Florida State this season, Boyd erupted for eight total touchdowns and 529 yards of offense. But against the Gamecocks, Boyd’s been average. Last season in Columbia, Clemson’s third straight loss in the series, Boyd completed 11 passes for 83 yards and ate the turf several times thanks to Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney. As a freshman in 2010, Boyd spelled Kyle Parker in the second half promptly threw a pick six.
Boyd will need to perform at an elite level to snap Clemson’s losing skid in the series and get the Tigers into the Sugar Bowl as a BCS at-large.
South Carolina’s defense is Clemson’s stiffest test of the season, a unit that has rarely given up big plays in the passing game this season. Up front, the Gamecocks’ defensive line holds an obvious advantage over the Tigers, but in the secondary is where the game will be won or lost. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins are two of the nation’s best at yards after the catch and flourish in space. Tailback Andre Ellington, a cousin of South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, is a threat to score when he hits the boundary, but Lorenzo Ward’s defense should have enough speed around the ends to limit Ellington’s production.
While the offense has been nearly unstoppable, Clemson’s defense hasn’t stopped anyone giving up an average of 24.7 points per game in a conference expected to send just six teams to bowl games. Last week at home, the Tigers gave up 597 total yards to quarterback Mike Glennon and N.C. State, a Wolfpack offense ranked 59th in the country coming in. Clemson has won seven straight games by at least two touchdowns but is expected to finally be a challenged against a program with comparable speed and talent.
For South Carolina, good quarterback play and a steady ground game with Kenny Miles is the ideal recipe for win No. 10. Connor Shaw’s road woes — LSU and Florida — are well-documented this season but the Tigers’ defense isn’t even in the same zip code as those two SEC heavyweights. Steve Spurrier confirmed Sunday that Shaw has an ailing foot problem that will cause him to miss practice the first half of the week. He’ll be a gametime decision Saturday, but most believe he’ll play. For the second time in this rivalry’s history, both teams are ranked in the Top 15. The last time that happened was in 1987, a game the Gamecocks won 20-7.
On paper, given South Carolina’s recent woes away from home, Clemson should dictate the game’s pace on the way to its 11th victory of the season. But that’s why they play and in a rivalry situation, anything can happen.
Photo Credit: Jeff Blake – US PRESSWIRE