Roy Martin: Keys to the South Carolina Game


by - Correspondent -
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The Clemson/South Carolina rivalry is like watching a nasty divorce unfold. For outsiders looking in, there is some sort of sick entertainment value in watching two sides that abhor one another, go at it.


For those that are involved, nothing is sacred. Their goal is to mercilessly tear the other completely apart. Fans will talk about tainted pasts and futures as they search for a way to taint the present. It seems as though they are now more infatuated with degrading their rivals rather than promoting their own accomplishments.

Much of this dislike has come about in the last couple of decades. During that time, the focus of the rivalry has shifted. In the past, it meant more to the players and coaches. Sure, fans got into it, but their lives did not seemingly revolve around the outcome.


Today’s players and coaches are just as wrapped up in it as ever. The difference is that fans are more involved – especially in the last 5 to 10 years. There are many reasons why this has occurred. Society as a whole has changed drastically in the last 20 years.

Quite possibly the two biggest reason for the shift are an increased number of bowl games and the introduction of the Internet. Just think about it.

In the past, there were a very limited number of bowl games. When the teams entered the season finale, bowl bids were nearly assured. With the large number of bowls now out there and competitive scheduling throughout the year, both teams are almost always battling for bowl berths and/or position when they meet.


And the popularity of the Internet has only helped to make the rivalry nastier than ever. Message boards and chat rooms provide a perfect battleground for computer cowards that would otherwise lurk around the parking lots on game day, praying that someone would not pick on them.


Granted, these are the extremes. Not everyone involved in this rivalry is filled with hate the week of the game. Everyone that visits an Internet site to have a little fun at his or her rivals’ expense is not a coward.


Believe it or not, there are those that still value sportsmanship. There are also quite a few tough guys that find it necessary to throw punches over what a bunch of 18-24 year-olds do on a football field. The former is all that is good about sports. The latter is just another reason why some gene pools need to have a little chlorine added.

Folks that head to Columbia on Saturday will get to see some of the good and bad. The winners will get to gloat for an entire year while the losers have to slowly count the days until their next shot at redemption.


OFFENSE

Over the last few seasons, South Carolina’s defense has been the biggest source of pride for Gamecock fans. On the flip side, Clemson’s offense has garnered most of the attention of Tiger fans. This year’s focus has shifted slightly, but those are still the two units that fans talk about at each school.


South Carolina is giving up 352.56 yards per game – 193.55 in the air and 158.82 on the ground. Clemson is gaining 411.36 yards per game – 285.36 in the air and 126 on the ground.

The numbers are pretty similar with the biggest difference is in the passing categories. Of course, passing the football is how Clemson has made a living on offense.

Only twice this year has South Carolina allowed more than 300 yards passing. On six instances they have allowed less than 200 yards through the air. Although the Gamecocks have not allowed opposing quarterbacks to torch them for tons of yardage, those that have completed a high percentage of passes have won.

Quarterbacks that have lost to South Carolina this year have completed an average of 54.2% of their passes. Those that have beaten the Gamecocks have found their target an average of 68.1% of the time. There is nothing shocking about those numbers. Effective quarterbacks are usually winners.

In order for Charlie Whitehurst to have a good day, he needs a couple of things to happen. First, Clemson needs to have some success running the ball. As the season has progressed, Clemson has done a better job on the ground. The tandem of Duane Coleman and Chad Jasmin gives the Tigers a slasher and a power runner. If those two can get on track, South Carolina will not be able to pressure Whitehurst as much as they would like.

The second important aspect of the offense is establishing a deep threat presence. If Clemson can get the South Carolina secondary on their heels, they will be forced to give up some run support while also opening up the intermediate and short passes. The South Carolina linebackers have apparently struggled to defend against backs out of the backfield and passes across the middle. The threat of a deep ball could allow Clemson to take advantage of that weakness.

South Carolina’s best defensive player may be cornerback Dunta Robinson. Some experts expect him to be one of the top three corners taken in next spring’s draft. He is their most experienced defensive back and one of the team leaders.

Their other superstar is defensive end Moe Thompson. He is the Gamecock version of David Pollack. They share the same build, intensity, and speed. If Clemson can find a way to slow Thompson down in passing situations, Whitehurst has a chance. If not, Charlie will be running for his life most of the night.

South Carolina has a good defensive ball club. They are athletic and have good speed. They would not be a competitive 5-6 team if that were not the case. The one area where they seem to be lacking is in depth.


The Tigers have done a good job of rotating offensive linemen throughout the year. Meanwhile, South Carolina has asked a lot of their defensive front. Operating primarily out of a 4-2-5 look against Florida, they had two linebackers that played all 60 snaps. The front four averaged being on the field 81.7% of the time. Thompson and tackle Freddie Saint-Preux logged 56 and 53 snaps, respectively.


In a close game, their apparent lack of depth could be the difference in the fourth quarter.

DEFENSE


The offensive line and running backs are by far the strengths of the South Carolina offense. Their starting line averages 6’5”, 315-pounds. Their second unit checks in at 6’5”, 310-pounds. They are very big and athletic in the trenches.


Even though they have suffered through some injuries over the course of the season, they have been able to plug in new players and move full speed ahead. Proof of that can been seen in the number of sacks they have given up – nine. That is tops in the SEC and one of the best numbers in the entire country.


As for their running backs, talent and youth rule the roost. True freshmen Demetris Summers and Cory Boyd have been very exciting at times. Summers has battled through injuries, but has managed to shows fans and foes why he was the top running back recruit in the country last year. He is not the fastest guy or the hardest runner, but he has that special knack of being extremely elusive.


Boyd entered fall camp firmly in the shadow of Summers but he has since made a name for himself. With Summers being a slashing type back, Boyd has filled the roll of straight ahead back. He has excellent quickness but seems to prefer power over speed.


The third and most unheralded back of the group is sophomore Daccus Turman. There is no question that he is a power back – a bruiser. Some have tried to label him a short yardage back, but that is not the case. He has the quickness and endurance to carry the ball 20-30 times a game. He may be the hardest running back Clemson has faced all year.

Much-maligned quarterback Dondrial Pinkins has been through a number of highs and lows this year. Fans have complained throughout the season about his play. Many say that he does not do a good job of recognizing defenses and throwing the mid-range patterns.

What he can do is throw the long ball. For Clemson fans that have forgotten, he threw a beautiful 70-yard scoring strike to Troy Williamson in last year’s game. Earlier this season against Virginia he hooked up with Williamson for a 99-yard TD. He followed that up with a 98-yard to Matthew Thomas against Ole Miss. With those two efforts, Pinkins became only the second player in NCAA history with two completions of 98 yards or more in a career, and the first to accomplish that feat in the same season.

Pinkins also runs the ball well. He has good speed and his 6’2”, 245 lb. frame generates a lot of power.

The Gamecocks will try to establish the run early in the contest. In terms of size, Clemson’s front four match up pretty well. The drop off occurs on the second level with the linebackers. They are small in comparison to many of the teams South Carolina has faced this year.


Clemson’s linebackers rely on their speed and instincts more than anything. If the large South Carolina linemen are able to engage the Tiger linebackers, they will immediately gain the advantage because the Tigers have struggled with getting off of blocks. Hill and Leake just do not have the size and strength to do it.


Of course, Clemson will likely stack the box in an effort to stop the run. Most teams have tried to force Pinkins to beat them with his arm and that formula has paid off more times than not.

If Clemson can successfully stop the run, they should win the game.

SPECIAL TEAMS


South Carolina utilizes a punt protection scheme nearly identical to Clemson’s. The difference is they will routinely roll the punter to the right and have him make a rugby-style kick. As unconventional as it sounds, it is extremely effective. The rolling, line-drive kicks make it nearly impossible to establish any type of return. The bounces also add the possibility of the kick striking a downfield blocker and creating a turnover.

The Gamecocks’ struggles with field goals have continued this season. They have converted on a mere 53.8% of their attempts. Clemson’s average of 72.7% is better but still very mediocre. Many games are decided by a made field goal. A miss could be the deciding factor in this one.

Field position could be a wash based solely on the stats. While Clemson is second in the country with an average kickoff return of 27.85 yards, South Carolina is 80th with a 19.09-yard average. In terms of punt returns, South Carolina is 7th in the country 14.38-yard average. Clemson’s average of 6.87 ranks them 101st.


SUMMARY


South Carolina’s five victories have come against teams without winning records: Louisiana-Lafayette (4-8), UVA (5-5), Alabama-Birmingham (4-6), Kentucky, (4-6), and Vanderbilt (2-9). Of course, they are the only SEC team to play Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Florida this season.

Based on the history of the rivalry over the last 30 years, Clemson should have the mental advantage. The Tigers have won five of the last six meetings and is 20-9-1. The Gamecocks have not had consecutive victories in Columbia since the 1973 and 1975 seasons, and have not won two games in a row since a run of three straight from 1968-1970. Most importantly, Lou Holtz is 1-3 against Tommy Bowden.


The Gamecocks enter the game needing a win to become bowl eligible and avoid a losing season. They are also looking to end a three-game losing streak. Lou Holtz and his crew have plenty of motivation to win this game.


The Tigers have already wrapped up a winning season and look to be in contention for a decent bowl game. A victory against South Carolina would give them three straight victories to finish the season on a hot note. That would greatly improve their chances of making either the Peach or Gator Bowls. They, too, have plenty of motivation.


The Tigers have really rallied around Bowden and his staff in recent weeks and they now appear to be playing with a chip on their collective shoulders. It has been an “us against the world mentality” for them. The fact that the Gamecocks actually enter this game as a favorite only enhances that attitude the Tigers now have.


Emotions are what make games like this great. Every player looks forward to rivalry games more than anything. It is the one week of the year where practices, classes, treatments, and all of the other obligations players have actually seem fun. They are on an emotional high all week.

This 101st meeting of the two rivals looks to be a good one. As much as fans from both schools would like to believe they have the superior team, the Tigers and Gamecocks match up pretty well. The difference right now might be mindset of each team.

The Tigers come in riding high and feeling like they are finally coming together. The Gamecocks come in with their heads slightly hung after a number of closes losses to some very good teams. The Florida loss was a hard one to swallow because coaching quite possibly cost them the game. From a player’s perspective, those are the hardest losses to overcome.

Clemson takes advantage of its momentum and continues its improved play as they win a hard fought contest 28-21.

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