Clemson University

Saturday’s game could be decided by teams’ weakest links

CLEMSON – Saturday’s rivalry game features an unstoppable force – SouthCarolina running back Marcus Lattimore – versus an immovable object in theClemson defensive front. But there’s another interesting match-up between astoppable force – the Clemson passing game – and a movable object, the USCpass defense.

South Carolina ranks 104th out of 120 FBS teams in pass defense, allowing250 passing yards per game.

Clemson’s pass offense ranks a modest 80th nationally (191 ypg).Clemson receivers Jeff Scott said the statistics are misleading.

“Studying their defensive backs, some of those numbers are inflated due tosome big plays,” Scott said. “I’d say they’re as good as anyone we’veplayed They’ve been pretty sound, with a few busts.”

The Gamecocks have allowed a number of busted plays. Arkansas quarterbackRyan Mallett shredded USC for 303 passing yards. Kentucky’s go-ahead scorecame on a secondary bust earlier this season.

Moreover, Carolina will be without a starting cornerback Chris Culliver, outfor the season with a torn pectoral muscle, and possibly another corner,Marty Markett (knee).

Though South Carolina has struggled at times this season, it does possess asuperior talent in corner back Stephon Gilmore, who is expected to playagainst Clemson after missing the Troy game with a concussion.

Gilmore was originally a Clemson commit, but defected after Tommy Bowden’sdeparture. Gilmore is physical and athletic in coverage (two interceptions)and run support, and is also a threat to blitz off the edge (three sacks).

He’s joined in the secondary by another athletic former Clemson commit,DeVonte Holloman.

“They are physical, athletic and run very well,” Scott said. “Ninety-fivepercent of the time they contest everything. They’ve played guys like(Alabama receiver) Julio Jones and held him in check pretty good.”

Jones caught eight passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against USC.

The SEC’s other elite wide receiver, A.J. Green, was suspended for theGamecocks’ meeting against Georgia.

While USC is thin in the secondary, Clemson is thin on playmakers producingjust four pass plays of 40 yards or more this season.

Clemson has struggled to make plays downfield for the majority of theseason, though the Tigers passing game performance has improved in recentweeks. Kyle Parker posted a season-best pass efficiency rating at WakeForest (222) and hit Jaron Brown for a 40-yard touchdown.

Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier said after the Wake game he seesimprovement in the passing game.

“I think the biggest thing is those young receivers,” Napier said. “As thatlineup has stayed the same I think that has helped us and (Parker’s) comfortlevel with those guys.”

With Clemson potentially without its best big-play threat in running backAndre Ellington, the passing game will need to keep improving and besomething more than a stoppable force.