To kick or not to kick to C.J. Spiller, that is the question.
There are a lot of interesting subplots to Saturday’s 107th edition of Clemson-USC. Can Steve Spurrier guide the Gamecocks’ offense past the 16-point barrier in his second game since taking over the play-calling duties?
Will one of the seniors from USC’s small outgoing class seize the moment with a big game or huge play that etches his name into the history books of our state’s equivalent of the Super Bowl?
Will the Gamecocks go after Kyle Parker early to get the freshman quarterback thinking about the blitz, sort of a first-inning, high-and-tight fastball to send a message to the Tigers’ designated hitter/passer?
All pertinent matters.
But The Spiller Question figures to add drama even to the high-noon coin toss. If the Tigers win the flip and elect to receive, do the Gamecocks elect to bang it deep to the player whose next kickoff return for a touchdown will give him more (seven) than anyone in NCAA history?
If the Gamecocks do plan on kicking it to Spiller, they ought to load up their coverage team with defensive starters. After all, players have a month to recover for whichever fast food-sponsored bowl game USC goes to – the Chick-fil-A or the Papajohns.com.
By that same thinking, it’s time for Spurrier to give Stephon Gilmore a few snaps at QB in the WildCock formation. USC experimented with the look in preseason before Ellis Johnson and his defensive staff convinced Spurrier that Gilmore was too valuable at corner to risk injuring him on a couple of option keepers.
But it’s late November and USC is facing a rival that has won 10 of the past 12 games in the series, including three of four since Spurrier arrived. It’s time to check caution at the door.
Not saying Gilmore needs to play every other series. But it might be worth mixing it up against a Clemson defense that gave up a good chunk of first-half yards last week against Virginia’s Wildcat.
Make no mistake, this is Stephen Garcia’s offense. And the redshirt sophomore looked good for three quarters two weeks ago against the No. 1 team in the country until his ill-fated pass doomed the Gamecocks’ upset hopes vs. Florida.
There can be no “until” Saturday for Garcia. He needs to play well the entire game, not 45 minutes.
But for all this talk about USC’s offense and kick coverage team, this game will come down to the Gamecocks’ defense.
USC has gone four games without creating a turnover, an almost-unheard of stretch of 16 quarters in which the defense has failed to change a game’s momentum and give the offense a short field to work with.
The Gamecocks need to come up with two to three turnovers today. If they don’t, they don’t win.
If that means blitzing Parker a few more times than USC did against Tim Tebow, so be it. Clemson has too many offensive weapons for the Gamecocks to sit back in their base D and rely on three-and four-man fronts to generate pressure.
Clemson has its share of playmakers on defense, too. Safety DeAndre McDaniel has eight of the Tigers’ 20 interceptions, all but one of which were hauled in by defensive backs.
USC has five INTs, three from its linebackers, two from its corners and none from its safeties.
It’s tough for a Tiger to change its stripes in the season’s 12th game. Ditto a Gamecock.
Clemson 28, USC 24