South Carolina is a 25-point underdog to No. 2 Clemson on Saturday for a reason. It will take not just an upset but a huge one for the Gamecocks to stop the Tigers’ four-game winning streak in this series. Here are five things South Carolina must do to compete with the Tigers, and all five illustrate why that’s going to be so difficult.
Stop Travis Etienne
The Gamecocks won’t have to worry about freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence or whether or not it can move the ball against Clemson’s vaunted defensive front or anything else if it can’t stop Tigers running back Travis Etienne. The Gamecocks are 93rd in the nation in rushing defense and Etienne is seventh in the country in yards per carry at 7.5. He’s exactly the kind of a back who thrives on the kind of mistakes South Carolina has made in rushing defense all season, an explosive back with dynamic cutting ability who is a threat to score on almost any play. The Gamecock linebackers and defensive backs will have to have their best tackling game of the season, and by far, to even slow down Etienne, who averages 105.2 yards per game on the ground.
Pressure Trevor Lawrence
Clemson’s five-star freshman quarterback has been very good since taking over for Kelly Bryant. He’s 20th nationally in passer efficiency and has 21 touchdowns versus four interceptions. The Gamecocks would rather have him playing his first rivalry game in Williams-Brice Stadium, but with Lawrence playing at home, the only pressure he’ll be under will have to come directly from South Carolina’s defensive line. The Tigers are 14th in the nation in sacks allowed with 13 this season, and the Gamecocks are 92nd in the nation in sacks with 19.
Finally force turnovers
It’s doubtful South Carolina will be able to stop the Clemson offense consistently, which means turnovers might be the Gamecocks’ only hope to create enough opportunities to win the game. South Carolina is 112th in the country in takeaways this year with 11, so it’s going to have to break that trend in a big way.
Hold the ball
Again, anything to protect a defense that just hasn’t been good this season. And again, this is an area where the Gamecocks haven’t excelled this year. South Carolina is 127th in the nation in time of possession at 25:49 per game. The Gamecocks believe in their up-tempo approach and the offense has found its stride of late, but slowing down might be a necessity against Clemson.
Maximize Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards
The Gamecocks don’t match up well against Clemson in many spots, but Samuel and Edwards won’t take a back seat to many players on the field. South Carolina’s top two wide receivers have to have big days, which probably means throwing the ball down the field. The Tigers, however, are sixth in the nation in numbers of passing plays of 10 or more yards allowed.