Spotlight on Spiller as USC, Clemson collide

jperson@thestate.comNovember 28, 2009 

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller

C. ALUKA BERRY/CABERRY@THESTATE.COM

  • SOUTH CAROLINA VS. CLEMSON

    107th meeting: Tigers (8-3) at Gamecocks (6-5)

    WHEN: Noon Saturday

    WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium

    LINE: Clemson by 3

    TV: ESPN (TWC 26/DTV 206/DISH 140)

    RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5, ESPN 93.1 FM

    ONLINE: Seth Emerson blogs live from the game Saturday at gogamecocks.com

No one on South Carolina's defense has a Heisman Trophy vote, although the Gamecocks have had a first-hand look at more candidates this year than anyone who was mailed a ballot.

They get their final look today at Clemson's do-everything back C.J. Spiller, who has two games to show voters he belongs in New York next month with Mark Ingram, Tim Tebow and the other expected finalists.

USC's defensive players do not care about spoiling Spiller's Heisman hopes. They just want him to slow him down once before he leaves Death Valley.

"We've just got to come out and try to stop him," defensive tackle Nathan Pepper said. "I don't think we really did too good of a job stopping him the last few times we played him."

In three games against the Gamecocks, Spiller has rushed for 331 yards on 42 carries - an average of 7.9 yards per attempt. He enjoyed the second-best rushing day of his career as a freshman against USC in 2006 when he racked up 155 yards on 10 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown burst.

Spiller, the ACC's single-season and career leader in all-purpose yardage, had identical rushing numbers the past two years against the Gamecocks - 16 carries for 88 yards.

While there has been talk this week about Spiller resting his injured toe so he is 100 percent for next week's ACC championship game against Georgia Tech, none of it has come from Spiller.

"I'll rest on the bus ride back," he said. "This is the last time we'll play these guys, so I'll be ready to go."

Seems the USC-Clemson rivalry has grown on the senior from Lake Butler, Fla., who grew up on Florida-Florida State.

"When I got here, I didn't understand at first," Spiller said. "But now I understand it means a lot to so many people."

A sellout crowd of more than 80,000 is expected at Williams-Brice Stadium today. It will be the third time this season USC has faced a Heisman candidate and the second time in as many games.

The Gamecocks helped build Ingram's Heisman platform by letting the Alabama tailback to gash them for 246 yards, the best rushing performance in Bryant-Denny Stadium history.

USC fared better against Tebow, holding the Florida quarterback to 225 yards in the top-ranked Gators' 24-14 win two weeks ago.

Spiller presents a different challenge because he is involved in seemingly every offensive facet. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder is third nationally with 188 all-purpose yards per game, and is the only player in the country with a touchdown in every game.

His 15 touchdowns have come on seven rushing scores, four receiving, three on kickoff returns and one on a punt return. Spiller also has thrown for a touchdown.

"I've seen him do it all this year. Other years he's been known for being an edge guy. But this year I've seen him get inside the tackles and the edge," Pepper said. "There's not many things he can't do."

So how does USC contain him?

On kickoffs, the Gamecocks' stance has been that they are unwilling to kick the ball out of bounds and let Clemson start on its 40-yard line. If USC kicks it deep to Spiller, free safety Chris Culliver said the key is good tackling form - easier said than done if Spiller has a head of steam.

"A lot of teams had him pinned, but he just broke the tackle," Culliver said. "We've got a good scheme of not kicking away from him and giving him extra field (position) because he's coming right back on offense."

USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said there is no "great secret" to stopping Spiller when Clemson has the ball. The Gamecocks will play their base defense, while trying to avoid having Spiller matched up one-on-one with a linebacker on pass plays.

"You have to be aware of where he is. They use him a lot of different places," Johnson said. "It's hard during the course of the game for somebody to be focused on where he is and what he can do where he's lined up."

What Spiller can do is break off a long gain every time he touches the ball. He has 20 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more.

"He's a fast dude going north and south," USC defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye said. "So we're just going to put pressure on him, everybody's going to do their job, fill in gaps and be aggressive."

Spiller expects USC, among the nation's top 20 defenses, to "figure out a way to get a lot of guys around" him, which could open up the passing game for Clemson if the Gamecocks stack the box.

And while quarterback Kyle Parker has been on a tear during the Tigers' six-game winning streak, USC's defensive game plan starts with Spiller.

"The goal is try to contain him," Pepper said. "I haven't seen a team this year that stopped him."

Staff writer Paul Strelow contributed to this report. Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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