Roy Martin: Clemson - USC Preview


by - Correspondent -
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Nearly a month ago to the day you would have been hard pressed to find anyone that thought the annual Clemson/Carolina game would be much of a contest. Clemson was leading the nation in scoring and had just finished dismantling a good Georgia Tech team.


Meanwhile, South Carolina had already experienced a quarterback change and seemed to be struggling to find their identity despite a good showing against Auburn.


Clemson seemingly had the confidence and talent to make a run at an 11 or 10-win season. The Gamecocks were simply searching for a way to win.


Now South Carolina has most of the confidence and Clemson is trying to find a way to put points on the board.


To say the roles have reversed would be a gross understatement.


OFFENSE


Clemson fans should hope the staff took some time during the week off to put out an APB for Will Proctor. The senior signal caller has all but disappeared since a decent performance in the second week of the season against Boston College.


Virginia Tech exposed his weaknesses and they were pounced on by Maryland and N.C. State. The weight of the offense has fallen on his shoulders the last three games and he has not been able to carry the load.


He had another bad game against the Wolfpack, missing at least three wide open receivers for touchdowns and making a number of questionable decisions along the way.


He also had one pick that was returned for a touchdown against N.C. State. In his defense, the miscue was more a result of poor protection than a bad throw.


Barry Richardson failed to cut his man and the defender stepped into the passing lane untouched. That play was indicative of how Richardson has performed as the season has progressed.


He entered the season highly touted as one of the best tackles in the country and a likely candidate to leave school early for the NFL. He has since played his way into a late round pick at best and a guy who is nothing more than an average lineman with above average size and potential.


The rest of the line has followed suit in the last month. They are no longer playing with the cohesiveness they displayed during the first eight games and have given James Davis and C.J. Spiller little room to run at times.


One could argue that Proctor's ineffectiveness and the line's poor play are a direct result of one another. Proctor is likely feeling too much pressure to perform and the line is struggling to deal with the loaded fronts they've seen as a result of teams trying to make Clemson one dimensional.


The good news is South Carolina's defensive front doesn't seem to be as stout as the ones Tech, Maryland, and N.C. State fielded. Those teams have depth and talent that Steve Spurrier is still trying to establish.


I think Clemson can have more success on the ground this week because their line is more than capable when they play together and their running back duo is as dynamic as any the Gamecocks have faced this year.


Still, Proctor is going to have to pick up his level of play if the Tigers are going to pull it out.


Gamecock defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix is a good one who will have an excellent scheme in place. Besides, they are good enough to be very successful if they can make a team one dimensional.


Clemson finally attacked the middle of the field with their passing game and ran more out of two back sets against the Wolfpack. I think Rob Spence needs to do more of both this week to go along with the few wrinkles he's sure to have added with the extra preparation time.


DEFENSE


Blake Mitchell was re-inserted into the lineup during the second half of the Arkansas game two weeks ago and nearly rallied his team to a come-from-behind victory. He has looked like a Steve Spurrier quarterback since returning as the leader of the offense by completing a high percentage of his passes and showing great poise in the pocket.


Mitchell is a better-than-average pocket passer with limited mobility, meaning he needs time to make plays. His line was not doing their part earlier in the year and the Gamecocks had no choice but to go with the much more mobile Syvelle Newton.


Gamecock offensive line coach John Hunt deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done with their front. They have steadily improved over the course of the season and they have done a great job of protecting their quarterback the last two weeks.


Receivers Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley have also helped the cause with their play. Everyone has heard of Rice but McKinley does not get the attention he deserves. He has been an excellent number two man who has big play capability and isn't scared to go across the middle. Both would be major factors in Clemson's offense.


Running back Cory Boyd isn't as talented and doesn't have the game-breaking ability of some of the backs Clemson has seen over the years, but he runs as hard as anyone I can remember the Tigers facing in recent history. He's a guy that will turn a one yard loss into a spectacular six yard gain with nothing more than power.


South Carolina uses a number of different personnel groups and formations, much the same way Clemson does. The difference is the Gamecocks employ a fullback and will operate out of a traditional I-set. They also like to find holes in the zone by using lots of intermediate and deep crossing routes.


Clemson's defense has played well enough to win every game they've played this year with the exception of the Virginia Tech contest, and they even played well enough to win that one for the first two-and-a-half quarters before tiring because they were on the field all night.


N.C. State ran the ball well but the Tigers came through in some big situations and only yielded seven points. The defense essentially won the game because the offense failed to put away another team when the chances were there.


With the skilled talent and confidence South Carolina has, much will be expected of the defense again this week.


The Gamecocks have faced some pretty good defense during the course of the season and they have fared well at times. They moved the ball well against Auburn and Florida and looked really good against Arkansas in the second half.


However, I don't think they have faced a front four as good as Clemson's all year. Clemson has depth at tackle and two very good ends in Gaines Adams and Phillip Merling. Ricky Sapp also has enough speed to cause problems on the outside.


The brunt of the work load will fall on those guys again this week. South Carolina has been at their best this year when their quarterback has been given time to pick apart zones. Teams like Boston College and Maryland have been successful against the Tigers because their quarterbacks were able to do just that.


Adams needs to have a huge game in his last as a Tiger but he will surely see some double teams. That's where Merling and the others need to step it up because Mitchell has been prone to making mistakes when pressured during his career.


The linebackers and secondary will also need to do their part by taking good drops and interrupting the routes of the receivers because many of South Carolina's routes are based on timing and being in certain spots.


The drops by the linebackers will be especially important because they can take away passing lanes and it will put them in a position to make plays on the many screens the Gamecocks employ.


Vic Koenning has done a great job of having his guys in a position to make plays this year and I think that will be the case again Saturday. That's why tackling will be just as important as any factor for the defense. They have tackled poorly at times this year and it has cost them. Rice, McKinley, and Boyd will definitely make the Tigers pay if they fall into that trap once again.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Both teams have had the unenviable experience of having blocked kicks cost them a game this year. Clemson lost to BC on a blocked PAT and nearly lost the FSU game because of two blocks. South Carolina had a chance to beat Florida two weeks ago but had a last second field goal blocked.


The Gamecocks do have a big weapon in kicker Ryan Succop. He was one of the best in the country entering the game in The Swamp and he has one of the strongest legs in the college game. He has also been deadly with his accuracy.


Succop also handles the punting and kickoff duties for South Carolina. His punting method is sometimes unconventional but he is extremely effective. As for his kickoffs, he can put them out of the end zone seemingly at will.


Clemson has a struggled at times throughout the season in the return game primarily because they have two freshmen handling the duties. The potential for a big play is ever present but that should be negated somewhat this week because of Succop's leg.


Clemson's kickoff unit's struggles this season have been well documented. Jad Dean has been suffering a groin injury in recent weeks, leaving Cole Chason to handle those duties. Even so, both kickers have been as inconsistent as their coverage. That unit must be very solid this week because the Gamecocks can and will strive on a short field.


OVERALL


The hype and trash talk leading up to the game seems to have been tempered a little this week.


Maybe it's the fact the game is taking place on a holiday weekend. Maybe Clemson's dominance over the last decade has taken its toll. Or maybe fans aren't as sure what's going to happen because of the shift in momentum.


Whatever the reason, I'm sure all of that will change Saturday when the day so many fans live for finally arrives.


All of the clichés that are used for rivalry games seem to hold true for this clash. There's nothing that can be said that hasn't been said a thousand times before.


I'm not so sure that would have been the case had the game been played during the first eight weeks of the season. Clemson probably would have won and won easily. The events of the last month have led to a drastic change in regards to that thought.


Clemson has played poorly in their last three games but it should also be noted that their opponents have been very talented. Although they may be down mentally, they still have some form of an advantage because it's the last home game for the seniors and they have owned the rivalry.


At the same time, that dominance could work against them because the Law of Averages says the Gamecocks are going to win one sooner rather than later. Whether or not they are an equal as a program is somewhat meaningless because they have a good staff and capable players. The rivalry in and of itself can level the playing field.


This is by far the hardest game I've had to predict in a long time. Realistically, either team has just as good of a chance as the other because you cannot predict games based on past history, especially not in college football.


When looking at games like this you have to look at things like home field advantage and emotion. Clemson has performed well in Death Valley over the last few years and their will a lot of emotion coming from the seniors.


In the end, I think those intangibles could make the difference. Clemson wins a classic 30-28.

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