USC gameday preview

South Carolina junior tailback No. 10 Brian Maddox scores a touchdown after a catch in the second quarter during the Gamecocks game against the Bulldogs in Athens, GA, Saturday.
South Carolina junior tailback No. 10 Brian Maddox scores a touchdown after a catch in the second quarter during the Gamecocks game against the Bulldogs in Athens, GA, Saturday.

Injury report, five game storylines, five questions with Nathan Pepper and more.


South Carolina - OL Hutch Eckerson (shoulder), DE Cliff Matthews (shoulder) and SS Darian Stewart (shoulder) will play.

Clemson: Out - OL J.K. Jay (back).


Just win

South Carolina has gone a month without a victory, dating to a 14-10 home victory against Vanderbilt on Oct. 24. The Gamecocks have dropped three in a row and four of five since starting 5-1. But they can salvage a solid season by beating their rivals, who have taken 10 of the past 12 in the series.

Long, dry spell

USC has not scored more than 16 points since the Kentucky game on Oct. 10, and is averaging 12.6 points over its past five games. That has led to questions about the play-calling, which Steve Spurrier took over from his son Steve Spurrier Jr. before the Florida game. The way Clemson is piling up points (40.7 per game during its six-game win streak), Gamecocks probably need to put up 28 to have a shot.

Tastes like chicken

The Gamecocks are bowl bound regardless of Saturday's outcome, but they can enhance their destination and payout with a win. USC players have their eye on Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31. The holiday travel gets longer with a loss as the Gamecocks would fall to the Independence in Shreveport, La., or the in Birmingham.

So long, seniors

Nine seniors will play their final home game Saturday, tied with Duke for the second-smallest senior class in the country. The group includes one of the best defensive players in school history in linebacker Eric Norwood. The Butkus Award finalist and two-time All-SEC pick will try to add his career-leading sacks and tackles for loss totals with a big game against the Tigers.

Find a crease

The Gamecocks rushed for 208 yards in 2006 in their last victory in the series, and Spurrier talked about the need to establish a running game Saturday. Brian Maddox ran for 82 tough yards against Florida, while Spurrier could dust off the Wildcat after Virginia had success with that package last week against the Tigers. If USC does not keep Clemson honest with the run, the Tigers will tee off on Stephen Garcia.


Game Within the Game

USC K Adam Yates vs. Clemson kick returner C.J. Spiller

About Yates: The redshirt freshman walked on to USC's squad after playing one year of high school football. The former soccer player has handled kickoffs for the Gamecocks, who rank last in the SEC in kickoff coverage. USC has allowed a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns that covered 99 yards or more.

How he'll win: Special teams coordinator Shane Beamer has indicated the Gamecocks would not shorten the field by kicking the ball out of bounds and giving the Tigers possession at their 40-yard line. Instead, Beamer said Yates could try to pop the ball up and force Clemson's up-backs to fair-catch it around the 25 or 30. If the Gamecocks kick to Spiller, they need to stay in their lanes and wrap him up.

Key number: 1, touchbacks by Yates this season. He and Spencer Lanning have combined for 50 kickoffs.

About Spiller: The Heisman Trophy candidate is one of the country's most feared return men. Spiller has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this season and has six in his career, which ties an NCAA record. He ranks fourth nationally with a 33.9-yard average on 16 returns.

How he'll win: With his sprinter's speed and cutback ability, Spiller is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. The Tigers also align two of their other offensive weapons - receiver Jacoby Ford and tailback Andre Ellington - in front of Spiller in case teams kick it short. Wake Forest, Coastal Carolina and N.C. State did not take any chances, opting for squibs on onsides kicks rather than boot it to Spiller.

Key number: 38; Clemson's average starting field position, a 10-yard advantage over its opponents' average starting position.

Five Questions Nathan Pepper

Defensive tackle No. 95 Greenville

The fifth-year senior grew up in the Upstate surrounded by Clemson fans, including several of his relatives. Pepper will graduate in a few weeks, and hopes to continue his football career.

Did you have neighbors who flew Clemson flags? Were you in the heart of Clemson country?

I had neighbors, my uncles and family members that were like - say you go to the store and you want to buy something for the cold (weather), it was Clemson. That's what they had. That's what I saw. I would sit at home and see my uncle come around, he's got on Clemson long sleeves, just Clemson'ed out. I'm like, 'What's up with that?' That's just how it is in that area.

You've talked about your goal-line fumble in the 2006 game. What's been your best moment in the rivalry?

Coming out and getting that win that year. I had the best and the worst of times that same game. I had that interception and fumble all at once, and then it ended up being our defense coming out and getting a stop and having them miss a field goal for us to get that win. It's always best when you win. I wish I had more time to talk about us winning, but we just haven't won.

Your knee's been through a lot. Can it hold up for the NFL?

I've been playing this long, why not? Why not at least go give it a chance? I just want to give it a shot. I feel like my body can hold up.

You're graduating in December?

That's the most important thing I'll be taking away from here - the degree I'm going to have in African-American studies and social work. I'll be the first in my family to graduate from a major college. That's definitely something I'm very proud of.

Does your brother (Demetrius, who is serving a life sentence for murder) get to watch your games?

All the games that come on CBS (and network) channels, those are the ones he can catch. He caught the Florida game. He probably won't see (Saturday's game), but he definitely will be listening in. If he can't watch it, he's definitely on the radio.

Person's prediction: Clemson 28, USC 24

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