David Hood: USC vs Clemson Prediction
C.J. Spiller and James Davis rushed for 218 yards against the Gamecocks last season.
Ahhhh…the sweet smell of success. The Picking Machine is now batting a robust .750 on the season, and even hit the correct point spread last Saturday in the Tigers' win over Virginia. I thought there would be a few more points scored, obviously, but both defenses dominated in the Clemson win. It's been a great start, but this week might prove to be the most difficult one to pick so far - an angry Gamecock crowd coming into the valley to face a Clemson needing a win to go to a bowl game. The so-called genius of the Old Ball Coach versus the running genius of C.J. Spiller. Can Clemson score enough to win against a tough Carolina defense? This one should be fun……
South Carolina at Clemson
When Clemson Has the Ball
The Tiger offense struggled at times last week against a big, physical Virginia defense, with C.J. Spiller being bottled up most of the afternoon. However, the young offensive line took over on the last drive, with senior James Davis accounting for several rugged yards, which might make Davis just as valuable as Spiller against the Gamecocks. The screens and Spiller plays won't be as important against Carolina as much as running straight at the defensive line, hitting the tight ends on quick routes, and trying to stretch the defense deep to make room for Spiller and Davis on play-action. But this Carolina defense, which got banged around at Florida two weeks, is scary good when they are on, and you can expect them to be on against their rivals. Clemson has to make sure there are no stupid pick-six plays, just take care of the football and hit a big play when they can.
ADVANTAGE – CAROLINA
When Carolina has the Ball
The Gamecocks will be starting Chris Smelley at quarterback, which might be good news for the Clemson defense. Smelley has struggled with turnovers at times, but when he's on, he can be dangerous through the air. Two years ago in Death Valley, Spurrier threw underneath and dinked and dunked all afternoon as the Gamecocks made a comeback in the victory. This time, look for South Carolina to exploit the young Clemson linebackers with tight end Jared Cook, then hit over the top when the safeties creep in to help. However, the Clemson defense has been playing extremely well, especially the pass defense, and Spurrier might fool everybody and try and run the football. I've seen several people pick the Gamecocks to all of a sudden find an offense for this game and score 30-plus points. My question is - have they actually watched Carolina play this season?
ADVANTAGE – Clemson
The Clemson special teams have been, well, special for the most part this season. Kicker Mark Buckholz has been almost automatic, the coverage teams have been a definite strength, and the return teams, which have been good, might be due for a big week. The one slight problem area has been punting, with short punts and a crucial block, but no problems the past few weeks. Carolina kicker Ryan Succop, when healthy, is one of the best in the country when healthy. The Gamecock return teams are dangerous, especially with Captain Munnerlyn, who Clemson will have to pay special attention to. Once again, special teams might play a huge part in who wins and who loses.
ADVANTAGE – EVEN
Every week, I short change Dabo Swinney a little bit, and every week, he impresses me more and more. Facing facts - this Clemson team was broken, in more ways than one, when he took over, and I really doubted whether he could have the kind of turnaround he has produced. Sometimes, there is more to coaching than just the decisions during the game, but Swinney has been more than adequate in all phases. On the opposite side of the field, he faces a legend in Steve Spurrier, who has an experienced staff, especially with defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. However, this if the first time he has REALLY faced a must-win situation - they can say all they want about the previous games being like a playoff, but this is really IT. Should be interesting to see how he reacts.
ADVANTAGE – Slight to Carolina
Now we get to the crux of the matter. Clemson needs to win to go to a bowl, and send seniors like James Davis and Aaron Kelly out of the Valley with a win. Also, Swinney might be fighting for a job in this game - if the Tigers play well and come away with a win over an SEC team, the permanent job might be his. On the Carolina side, there has been a growing sense of frustration as their team can't seem to get over the Clemson hump - they haven't won back-to-back games since a few years after we walked on the moon for the first time. This year, however, this team has been through the SEC ringer, played well at times, played bad at times. For the first time in recent memory, however, I think Carolina might actually want this one worse than Clemson, and they definitely have the horses to get this one done. If Clemson can avoid turnovers, get a huge special teams play, a touchdown on defense, and put pressure on Smelley, then can win. However, I just don't see all of that happening, and for the first time as the picker, I go against the Tigers. I hope I'm wrong.
Carolina 23, Clemson 16
|Clemson at Boston College||19-17 W||27-21 W|
|Clemson at Florida St||23-22 W||27-41 L|
|Duke at Clemson||34-23 W||31-7 W|
|Clemson at Virginia||27-17 W||13-3W|
|USC at Clemson||23-16 L||?|