Game of the Week: Week 13
South Carolina delivered a blow to the Tigers season last year. Clemson will look to return the favor today.
Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer
At 10-1, Clemson is in the hunt for a BCS at-large berth, but needs a win over arch-rival South Carolina to stay in consideration. Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks are going for four in a row over the Tigers, and with a victory would secure consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in school history. Here’s a closer look at this week’s matchup, as we highlight “The Battle of the Palmetto State” in this week’s Orange Bowl Game of the Week.
The Tigers’ offense has been nothing short of prolific this season, particularly behind the exceptional play of quarterback Tahj Boyd (3,367 yards passing, 466 yards rushing and 41 touchdowns). The junior has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the nation, ranking second in passer efficiency, fourth in touchdown passes, eighth in passing yards and seventh in total offense. Making his job easier is the plethora of toys Clemson has on offense, particularly in receiver duo DeAndre Hopkins (1,171 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Sammy Watkins (671 yards, three touchdowns). Senior tight end Brandon Ford adds some significant depth to the receiving corps, and his eight touchdowns rank second in the country at his position. Senior tailback Andre Ellington is closing in on his second consecutive 1,000 yard season, and his 959 yards and eight touchdowns both rank second among ACC running backs. All around it’s difficult to find a weak link in the Tigers’ offense, which averages over 44 points per game and dropped 37 points on Florida State (which ranks first in the nation in total defense). Defense is another story. The Tigers have allowed over 400 yards and 24 points a game this season, coming off an outing where Mike Glennon and the N.C. State Wolfpack put up 48 on the co-ACC Atlantic Champs. However, the Clemson defense has shown marketable improvement since their week eight victory over Virginia Tech, holding opponents to 20 points or less in four of the five games since.
When Marcus Lattimore went down with a knee injury, so did any “wow factor” in South Carolina’s offense. While it hasn’t looked as explosive without their star running back, the team has done an efficient job controlling the clock and grinding out wins. Tailbacks Kenny Miles and Mike Davis have run for a combined 239 yards and two scores in Lattimore’s absence, and quarterback Connor Shaw has shown throughout his career he can contribute on the ground (864 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons). The junior has also stepped up in the pocket as well, with 750 yards and six scores through the air over the past three games. With Clemson’s ability to score at will, Shaw will need to bring every weapon in his arsenal to keep up on the scoreboard. Defensively, the Gamecocks are as deadly as ever. Defensive end and All-American candidate Jadeveon Clowney (8.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss) returns after missing last week’s contest with a foot injury, and he’ll lead a Gamecocks’ defense that averages over three sacks a game. On a whole, their defense leads the conference in sacks (34) and tackles for loss (88). They’ll need to continue that trend of creating havoc in the backfield and pester Boyd all game if they hope to keep it manageable for the Gamecock offense. If Clowney is back to full strength South Carolina should be able to create enough pressure with the front four alone, giving the secondary a better chance to compete with Clemson’s dynamic receiver tandem.
This is just the second time in this storied rivalry that the two have met while both ranked in the top 15, and it has the makings of a memorable matchup in this decade-long series. Clemson is one of the hotter teams in football, torching the fields on offense week in and week out. However, the Tigers’ offense was lethal last season as well, and the stingy Gamecocks’ defense held them to just 153 yards. The implications are huge for both teams, and there’s no doubt the fans in Death Valley are in for a real treat this Saturday.