It’s hard to believe, but the Palmetto State showdown is already here. The No. 12 Gamecocks will take on the No. 11 Tigers in Clemson on Saturday night, and the winner will keep their chances at playing in a BCS bowl alive (the losing team will still be going to a bowl).
USC, of course, is looking to beat the Tigers for the fourth straight year, something that has only been accomplished once in school history. On the other side, Clemson obviously wants to end the Cocks’ winning streak ASAP.
Jadeveon Clowney, who was out last weekend against Wofford, will return this week, and the biggest question facing Carolina is whether or not Connor Shaw will play – and how effectively. He was held out of practice for most of this week, but reportedly did well when he did practice. As of right now I think he’ll play, but if he can’t go, or if he struggles, Dylan Thompson will be ready, according to the coaches.
On the ground, the Cocks will probably rely heavily on Kenny Miles, who celebrated Senior Day last weekend with a career game. Mike Davis will likely see some carries too. The amount of passing that happens will possibly depend on who’s under center, but look for all the usual suspects – Bruuuuuuuuuuuce Ellington, Ace Sanders, Justice Cunningham, etc. – to be involved. To be frank, Clemson’s defense isn’t all that good. If the Gamecocks can get into an offensive rhythm, that could mean big trouble for the home team.
The Tigers couldn’t contain Shaw last year, and their QB, Tajh Boyd, didn’t even come close to Connor in terms of running ability. Boyd is much more mobile this season, though, so the Gamecocks will have to find a way to limit his opportunities to run. He’s been on fire this season and his passing stats have been ridiculous, so the USC defense must shut down Clemson on the ground and through the air if they want to leave TigerTown with a W. The defense has had a hand in putting points on the board for South Carolina recently, and it would certainly be helpful if they could do that again Saturday night.
Clemson is favored to win this game by four points, and I’d be surprised if the spread is much bigger than that, regardless of who comes out on top. This is a huge game, and not just because the winners will get to hoist the Hardee’s Trophy. A win for the Gamecocks would also give them their second straight 10-win season, while a win for the Tigers would give them a perfect record at home this year.
There are, of course, the bragging right and BCS bowl implications, but if South Carolina comes away with a victory, this year’s seniors will have never lost to Clemson, while Clemson’s seniors will have never beaten USC. Steve Spurrier will also reach his 65th win, which would be a new school record.
I want to say I think the Cocks will pull this one out, but I’m just a little hesitant. The Tigers have looked really good recently (I know, they’ve been playing perhaps “lesser” teams, but still) and Carolina has struggled on the road at times. That being said, I wouldn’t be stunned if USC comes out on top. There’s so much on the line, and I really believe these guys can get the job done. It will likely come down to who makes fewer mistakes – let’s just hope it’s the guys with the Block C’s on their helmets.
Kick off is set for 7 ET and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.