Like everyone else, the first thing South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley notices when he watches Clemson play football is the Tigers’ defensive line. Unlike everyone else, Bentley will get to see it in person Saturday night when the Gamecocks take on the No. 2 Tigers.
If he sees too much of the Tigers’ vaunted front four, it will be a big problem for South Carolina.
“The main thing that jumps out at you is their d-line and up front, just really good players that have played a lot of football and played a lot together,” Bentley said.
Clemson defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant have combined for 41 tackles-for-loss and 20 sacks this season, and they are the main reason the Tigers are No. 2 in the country in total defense, allowing 254.4 yards per game.
“The front is really good and when you get into the passing game, you better get rid of it quickly,” South Carolina head coach Will Mushamp said.
Clemson has beaten the Gamecocks in four straight seasons and in those games the Tigers have a 13-2 advantage in sacks.
“They have good guys across the board,” South Carolina offensive lineman Zack Bailey said. “The past years they have been good and looking at film it’s pretty much the same. It’s a lot to prove for the team, not just us. We are going to go out there and give it our best shot.”
South Carolina has only allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 24th in the nation.
“They are big strong guys. They have pretty much dominated everyone they played so it’ll be a good test for us,” Gamecocks center Donell Stanley said. “You just do what you do, do what you’re supposed to do.”
The Gamecocks’ offensive line has had its best season under Muschamp, and offensive line coach Eric Wolford was nominated for the Frank Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach. Stanley doesn’t expect Wolford to ask for anything extra from his front five this week.
“We are just going to come out and play with our fundamentals and let the results take care of themselves,” Stanley said. “If we go away from our stuff and what we do, it makes us uncomfortable and that’s not what (Wolford) wants to do.”
Ferrell and Lawrence both could be first round NFL Draft picks in the spring, and Wilkins and Bryant are expected to have long professional careers as well. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables often employs a “Bear” defensive front to maximize the one-on-one matchups for his players.
“They have guys who can win on their one-on-ones,” Muschamp said. “Even when the ball is out quickly, they do a really good job of pressuring the quarterback.”