Offense vs. Defense
If you live in the Palmetto State, the reason you’re watching the game Saturday night is because it’s South Carolina-Clemson. If you’re not connected to either team, the reason you’re watching is the matchup between the Gamecocks defense and the Tigers offense. South Carolina is ranked No. 13 in the country in points (17.5) and yards allowed (310) per game. Clemson is fourth in the nation in scoring (44.6 points per game) and is coming off a game in which it gained 754 yards against Maryland. “We’ve played a lot of football this season. We have seen passing, spread offenses to teams that want to run the football like LSU,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “Hopefully, the grind we’ve had this season is going to prepare us. Clemson is scoring a lot of points and putting a lot of yards up on people. We have a big task ahead of us.”
One more victory in Clemson will give South Carolina its 10th on the road in this rivalry. The Gamecocks have won in two of their last three trips to Death Valley, but this year’s South Carolina team hasn’t looked nearly as impressive on the road as it has at home. “We know we haven’t done well on the road,” linebacker Shaq Wilson said. “We know that we have to go up there with a lot of intensity and a lot of emotion and play with a lot of heart. We know it’s our last regular season game, and we’re going to go put it all on the line.” Ward believes Clemson’s offense will be able to play faster at home because it does not have to deal with crowd noise. While Wilson and Ward speak for the defense, it’s the offense that has really struggled away from Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks have averaged 37.5 points per game at home, and 21.8 on the road.
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Eighth-year coach Steve Spurrier will mark another milestone with his next win at South Carolina. He has won 64 games at the school, tying Rex Enright for most in the program’s history. One more will give him sole possession of first place and put his name on the Williams-Brice Stadium façade in another spot. “I hadn’t thought about (the record) too much lately, really,” Spurrier said. “Us against them is big enough to talk about, probably. Those are one of those records where when your coaching days are over you look back and say, ‘What was his record?’ At the moment, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. The bigness of this game is who wins between us and them.”
The power of four
The Tigers have allowed 20 sacks this year, which ranks 59th in the nation. South Carolina is hoping not only to add to that total but to do it while rushing only its four defensive linemen on most snaps. The Gamecocks are eighth in the country with 34 sacks and have done most of their damage with their defensive line alone. “We’ll have to find out (if we can),” Spurrier said. “I do know we got some good pass-rushers, there’s no question about that. We pass-rushed them very well last year. I think their o-line’s probably playing better than it was last year at this time, and I think (Andre) Ellington was hurt a little bit in the game last year, so they didn’t have the run game that they’ve got now.” Ward will blitz early if he cannot get pressure with his defensive line alone, he said. “We’ll have to figure out a way to get to the quarterback,” he said.
By the numbers
This is the second-biggest game in this 110-game history of this rivalry based solely on rankings. The 1987 game, when Clemson was ranked No. 8 and South Carolina was ranked No. 12, holds the top distinction in that category, but this game is No. 1 in some respects. The team’s 19 combined wins are the most in the history of the game. This is only the eighth time the two schools have had 15 or more combined wins at the time they played. In addition, the teams still could set a season win total record if each finishes strong after Saturday. Last year, the teams combined to win 21 games, so they could top that this year if each wins its bowl game. This is the 104th straight meeting between the teams, making it the country’s third-longest uninterrupted rivalry. (The Kansas-Nebraska and Minnesota-Wisconsin series hold the record at 105.)
Head to head
South Carolina’s offensive line vs. Clemson’s defensive line
While the marquee matchup in the game will be the Gamecocks’ defense and the Tigers’ offense, it may be that this matchup is the one that decides the game. Neither of these units comes into the game with a ton of momentum, and South Carolina would like nothing more than to keep Clemson’s offense on the sideline by being able to control the ball better than it has in the second half of the season. “Our offense needs to play better,” Spurrier said. “We were pretty ugly the last game, didn’t block very well. We were able to grind out sort of an ugly win over Wofford last week. If we’re going to have a chance, we have to play some offense.” In addition to opening up holes for the running game, South Carolina’s offensive line must give Connor Shaw time to find some confidence in the pocket. “Our passing game is a concern,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, we can throw some balls down the field somewhere this week, get them out somewhere is what we hope to be able to do.” Clemson is No. 69 in the nation in defense, allowing 408 yards per game.