Josh Kendall

Can South Carolina get more than a moral victory against Clemson?

South Carolina is not going to beat No. 2 Clemson on Saturday.

Sorry.

There is good news, though. Despite what Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp inevitably will say after the game, there are moral victories. South Carolina lost by 49 points to the Tigers two years ago and 24 last year. That’s progress. Not the kind of progress anyone can thump their chest about but progress nonetheless. If the Gamecocks can play Clemson within two touchdowns in Death Valley on Saturday, that will represent more progress.

The Tigers are 11-0 and No. 2 in the nation. They have participated in the last three CFB Playoffs. They are still a significant step ahead as a program.

Muschamp was hired three years ago to rebuild South Carolina’s program and close that gap with the Gamecocks in-state rival. So far, he’s closing it. The problem is it was so big when he started.

South Carolina has a chance to score some points against Clemson. The Gamecocks have a confident offense and wide receivers who can make plays against the man coverage the Tigers will play a lot. South Carolina’s offensive line is as good as it has been in a while. It probably won’t win the war against Clemson’s elite defensive front, but it can win enough battles to give the Gamecocks some chances to hit big plays. When that happens, quarterback Jake Bentley and wide receivers Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith have to take advantage to keep the game close.

The biggest problem for the Gamecocks is there is no reason to believe they can stop Clemson’s running game. Paced by Travis Etienne, the Tigers are 14th in the nation in rushing with almost 250 yards per game on the ground. It would be nice for South Carolina fans to think their defense could put some pressure on Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence and force him into some mistakes in his first rivalry game, but the Gamecocks will have to stop the run before they worry about that.

They won’t be able to.

Clemson 40, South Carolina 21

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