South Carolina’s players and fans came away from last year’s drubbing by Clemson with lots of emotions. For Alan Knott and the Gamecocks offensive line, one stood out above all the others.
“We were angry,” the senior center said. “We weren’t prepared I don’t think. I don’t think we came into the game with the tenacity that we needed to. I don’t think we were ready to go in there and play a game. Our minds weren’t focused on the right things, but this year we will be where we need to be.”
They will have to be. No. 4 Clemson (10-1) has as good a defensive line as the Gamecocks have seen all season, a group led by defensive end Clelin Ferrell and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. The Tigers defense ranks third in the country in points allowed (13.9 per game). Last year, the Tigers defense bulldozed South Carolina and its offensive line, recording three sacks and harassing quarterback Jake Bentley into the worst game of his season.
“I don’t think they have the linebacking corps they used to have, but they make up for that with their defensive line,” Knott said.
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The matchup between that defensive line and South Carolina’s offensive line will be the key to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game in Williams-Brice Stadium, Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said.
“In the run and pass game, we’ve got to negate their front and block those guys,” Muschamp said. “That’s the bottom line. That’s going to be the key to the game for us offensively.”
Muschamp feels better about that than he once would have this season. Several times this season, Muschamp has come away from games saying his offensive line was “whipped,” but he’s seen progress down the stretch, he said.
“I'm looking forward to the matchup with the offensive line,” he said. “I think we have made some strides, we certainly are much improved from a year ago, but they have a good front. We've got a great opportunity sitting in front of us.”
After a midseason marked by offensive line injuries, the Gamecocks have played the last four games with the same front five, and that has helped improve the unit, guard Cory Helms said.
“I think we’re progressing for sure,” Helms said. “We’re definitely healthier. I mean, we’ve still got a long way to go. I think we’re doing a really good job of sticking together and working hard. (First-year offensive line coach Eric) Wolford makes sure you never get comfortable. He keeps pushing us, and I think that’s helped us a lot.”
In rushing offense and sacks allowed, the traditional measures of offensive line play, the Gamecocks rank 12th (131.5 yards per game) and seventh (25), respectively, in the SEC.
“We definitely have to play really good up front,” Helms said. “It’s not going to take like a super natural effort, but they’re really good up front so we need to play well.”
The Tigers are second in the nation in sacks (39) and third in tackles-for-loss (93) this season. Ferrell is 20th in the nation with 7.5 sacks.
“I wouldn’t say it will take our best game,” Knott said. “I’d just say we all need to be dialed in on what we need to do.”
If they are not, they’re going to angry again come Saturday night.
Who: USC (8-3, 5-3 SEC) vs. Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC)
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
Line: Clemson by 14