WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.23 CLEMSON AT SOUTH CAROLINA
- 2021-11-27 13:34:35
Welcome to the Palmetto Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
It’s hard to believe the last game of the regular season is upon us, but it’s been a long, frustrating and stressful one for the Tigers! Yet they have overcome a mountain of injuries and adversity to give themselves an opportunity to win a 7th straight ACC Championship if the chips fall right and both NC State and Wake lose this weekend. I said a couple of weeks ago that I give the Tigers a 40 percent chance of winning the division (while ESPN gave them a 10 percent chance), and I still feel good about my assessment because State has a tough rivalry game against UNC, and Wake, having lost 2 of its last 3, has to play on the road against a much-improved BC team with Phil Jurkovec back. Like Dabo said, if it’s meant to be, it will be, but the Tigers have won 6 out of their last 7 to give themselves a chance, and that is incredible in and of itself with all of the injuries they have sustained and continue to play through. The Tigers aren’t worrying about what may or may not happen in the ACC, though, because this is Palmetto Bowl week, and it’s been two long years since they’ve played the Gamecocks. The Tigers would be going for their 8th straight win over their bitter rivals in Columbia, but Greg Sankey and the SEC chickened out of their ACC rivalry games last year, even after John Swofford made an allowance for the games to be played. Everyone knows that Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers would have manhandled the Gamecocks in Death Valley last season for a 7th straight win in the series. It seems even longer since the two teams last met in 2019 because it’s a whole new coaching staff and a lot of new players in Columbia, and the Gamecocks have the most hope of beating the Tigers since 2014 because of the Tigers’ dozens of injuries and the fact that the Gamecocks are already bowl eligible, coming off of recent home wins over Auburn and Florida. Meanwhile, the Tigers have re-entered the CFP Rankings at No.23 this week after a dominant 48-27 win over No.10 Wake Forest. You can bet Williams-Brice will be rocking on Saturday night for this intense rivalry, which will be broadcast on the SEC Network!
On to the matchup…
Clemson leads the all-time series with South Carolina 71-42-4 dating back to 1896 and has won the last 6 straight meetings…Clemson has beaten South Carolina more than any other opponent…It is the 12th-most played rivalry in the nation and was the second-longest uninterrupted rivalry (one year behind Minnesota-Wisconsin) until the SEC refused to allow non-conference games in 2020….Clemson (86-10) is three wins behind Alabama (89-6) for the most since 2015. The Tigers (129) trail only Alabama (138) for the most wins since 2011. They have 6 more than Ohio State. Clemson leads the nation in Power Five wins (91) since 2013. Alabama has 89 and Ohio State has 86 over that span....Clemson has beaten at least 12 Power Five opponents in 4 of the last 6 seasons. In college football history, that feat has only been achieved 4 other times. Alabama, LSU, Georgia and FSU each accomplished it once….The Tigers have won 10 or more games for 10 straight seasons, the third-longest streak in history behind FSU (14) and Alabama (13), which is also an active streak…The Tigers’ streak of 6 straight outright conference titles is tied with Oklahoma’s active streak for the third-longest in history. Oklahoma won 12 in the 40’s and 50’s and BYU won the WAC 7 straight times in the 70’s and 80’s. However, Clemson is the only program to have won 6 straight conference championship games….Clemson has finished in the top-4 of the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons, tied with Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams for the fourth-longest streak in history. FSU did so 13 straight seasons under the late great Bobby Bowden, while USC and Miami have each done so 7 straight seasons….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation at .802. Nick Saban is second at .799….Dabo’s 148 wins passed Nebraska legend Tom Osborne for third-most by a coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 13th full season. He could quite conceivably top Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo is fourth on the list of most games coached as an ACC head coach….Clemson has been ranked No.1 in the AP Poll in each of the last 6 seasons, which is the third-longest streak of all time behind Alabama (14) and Miami (7). Alabama’s streak is also active….Clemson had by far the longest active streak ranked in the top 5 of the AP Poll at 57 straight weeks before dropping to No.6 because of a pick-six in the opener against now No.2 Georgia. Alabama was second at 21, followed by Georgia and Oklahoma with just 4 each. If Clemson had remained in the AP top 5 until the end of the regular season, it would have surpassed Alabama’s all-time record of 68. Clemson’s streak of 97 straight weeks in the AP top 10, which ended this season, is the 3rd-longest streak in history behind Miami (137) and Alabama’s current streak of 103…Since 2011, Clemson has finished with an equal or higher ranking than its preseason ranking every year except for 2019 and 2020, the only two years the Tigers have been ranked No.1 preseason. The Tigers were ranked No.2 and No.3 in the 2021 preseason polls…
SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOPSIS
The Gamecocks are obviously in the first year of the Shane Beamer regime. Beamer, of course, is the son of VA Tech Hall of Fame Head Coach Frank Beamer, and Shane was the Gamecocks’ recruiting coordinator under Steve Spurrier during the height of the Gamecocks’ success from 2010-2013. His father and Steve Spurrier are not the only legendary head coaches under which Beamer has served. He was on Phillip Fulmer’s staff as a GA at Tennessee, coached under Kirby Smart at Georgia and, most recently, under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma. Not a bad resume! He has quickly revitalized the program and rejuvenated the fan base in his first season after a dreadful 2-8 campaign in 2020 saw the Will Muschamp era come to an end.
The Gamecocks are bowl eligible for the first time since 2018 with a 6-5 record, and they have beaten Auburn and Florida at home in recent weeks, with a 31-28 loss at Mizzou sandwiched between. Both Auburn and Florida are unranked and having down years, but that doesn’t make the Gamecock fan base any less excited about the trajectory of their program. And with the number of injuries and one-score games that the Tigers have had this season, the fans have more hope of ending the losing streak to Clemson than they’ve had in a long, long time.
It’s been a quarterback carousel for the Gamecocks, much like the Tigers’ wide receivers or offensive line. Ryan Hillinski transferred out, and former 4-star recruit Luke Doty was injured to start the season, so the Gamecocks gave a jersey to grad assistant Zeb Noland to start the opener. He won his first two starts against Eastern Illinois and ECU, but then Doty got the nod against Georgia. He lost that game 40-13 and is 2-3 as the starter with wins over Troy and Vandy, a one-point home win over the cellar-dwelling Commodores. Doty suffered a season-ending foot injury, so the Gamecocks turned to grad transfer Jason Brown against Florida, and he led the Gamecocks to a 40-17 home win over the Gators, one of the biggest upsets in program history. He lost the next week 31-28 at Mizzou but beat Auburn at home last week 21-17. Brown is completing 58.4% of his passes this season and averaging about 175 yards per game. He has 8 touchdown passes against 4 interceptions. Brown is not much of a running threat.
The biggest threat in the Gamecocks’ passing game is 5’11, 190-pound senior WR Josh Vann (#6). He has excellent speed and has 39 catches, averaging 16.4 yards per, with 5 touchdowns this season. Vann has scored a TD in each of their last 3 games. 6’1, 207-pound junior Dakereon Joyner (#5) was recruited by the Tigers as an athlete, but he wanted to play quarterback so he chose the Gamecocks. He’s finally accepted his role as a receiver and has 21 catches with one touchdown this season. Expect to see him line up a few times in the wildcat formation because of his ability to run or throw. You might also see him involved in a little trickery on Saturday with a double-pass. The Gamecocks have a couple of good tight ends in sophomore Jaheim Bell (#0) and senior Nick Muse (#9). Bell is 6’3 and 230 pounds. He has 21 catches, averaging 15 yards per, and 3 touchdowns this season. Muse, as most of you know, is the brother of former Clemson safety Tanner Muse. He is 6’5 an 249 pounds with 18 catches and 2 touchdowns this season.
The Gamecocks are deep at running back and led by 6’1, 215-pound senior ZaQuandre White (#11). He only has 561 rushing yards this season but averages 6.9 yards per carry. He has just 2 scores as a rusher but has 15 catches with 3 TD receptions. He’s scored 3 touchdowns in their last 2 games. 5’10, 220-pound junior Kevin Harris (#20) has the most carries on the team but averages 4.1 yards per carry. He leads the team with 3 rushing touchdowns. Freshmen Juju McDowell (#21) and Marshawn Lloyd (#1) average 4.2 and 3.6 yards per carry, respectively, and have a touchdown apiece.
Defensively, senior DE Kingsley Enagbare (#1) is the one to watch. The Atlanta native leads the team with 4.5 sacks and has a forced fumble and recovery this season. Anderson native Zacch Pickens (#6), a junior who was recruited by the Tigers, is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. The Gamecocks only have 22 sacks as a team, so they are averaging 2 per game. On the back end, look out for senior Duncan native Jaylan Foster (#12), who has 5 interceptions. They have 14 INT’s as a team, which is tied for No.13 in the nation.
The Gamecocks are No.47 in scoring defense (23.7 points/game), No.95 in rush defense (170.91 yards/game), No.12 in pass defense (186 yards/game) and No.47 in total defense (356.9 yards/game). They are tied for No.57 in turnover margin at +0.09 per game. Their offense is No.102 in 3rd down conversions at 34.72%, and their defense is No.106 on 3rd down, allowing conversions 43.54% of the time. They have struggled in the red zone on both sides of the ball. The Gamecocks are ranked No.114 in red zone offense and No.101 in red zone defense. Special teams have been a strength for the Gamecocks. Senior Parker White is 13-14 this season with a long of 54 yards. Sophomore punter Kai Kroeger averages 43 yards per punt with a long of 73 yards. WR Josh Vann averages almost 12 yards per punt return, but the Gamecocks do not have any punt or kickoff returns for scores this season. They have allowed one punt return TD.
Receivers Justyn Ross, Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson are all out again. Ross and Ladson are likely done for the season, while Ngata should be available for the bowl game. EJ Williams, who suffered a freak injury at practice last week, will be a game-time decision. If he is out, that is the Tigers’ top 4 receivers. They will be starting 2 true freshmen (the Collins “brothers”) and Will Swinney for the second straight game. Both Collins have stepped up, especially Beaux, but it would be nice to have EJ back in the mix. Davis Allen has been carrying the load in the passing game as well. He has been the Tigers’ most consistent offensive player this season, and just about the only one that has avoided injury. Knock on wood! DT Tre Williams is done for the season. He’s been playing with multiple injuries all season somehow, but he was finally knocked out last week against Wake. He will require multiple surgeries in the off-season. That means the Tigers are now without 2 of their top 4 defensive tackles. Ruke has had a great season, though, and thank goodness Tyler Davis returned a few weeks ago.
In talking to the players this week, you can tell they are excited about this rivalry game. It’s hard to believe that so many players, including DJ, have never experienced it before. DJ has been in a couple hostile environments like NC State and Louisville this season, but I’m not sure he knows what he’s about to face in Williams-Brice at night. Let’s just hope there aren’t any objects thrown at the players this time like 2017, the last night game there! I have no doubt that the seniors like SC native Xavier Thomas and Jamie Skalski are chomping at the bit to beat the Gamecocks one more time in their backyard and keep the streak alive!
Be sure to check HERE about two hours before kickoff for a final player availability report! We'll find out if EJ Williams will be playing or not.
The Tigers’ offense has gradually improved over the last few games, thanks in large part to the 1-2 punch of Shipley and Pace in the run game. DJ has improved as well, although he is still consistently making a handful of bad throws per game. He’s also been playing with a sprained knee, and last week he had a splint on the index finger of his throwing hand. The knee has clearly affected his ability to run and scramble, and that could be a big factor on Saturday. I expect the Gamecocks to completely sell out to stop the Tigers’ run game. They know that the Tigers’ top 4 receivers are out and that DJ has been inconsistent passing all season. They also know that the Tigers ran all over Wake last week. The Gamecocks’ secondary is the strongest unit of their team, so they can afford to leave those guys on islands and put 8 men in the box to stop the run. So DJ, the Collins brothers and Davis Allen are going to have to score the points on Saturday, and it will be tough sledding on the road at night in that environment. The biggest key to the game is that the Tigers cannot afford to turn the ball over, especially in either red zone, and they especially cannot give the Gamecocks points. They’ve done that far too often this season, especially on the road. The Tigers turned the ball over 3 times last week and were lucky that the defense was able to force 3 of their own. The only way I see the Tigers losing this game is if they turn the ball over. If they are -1 or better and don’t give the Gamecocks any points, they should win the game. During the five-year streak that the Gamecocks beat the Tigers, the turnover margin was 15-3 in their favor! Some of that was because the Tigers felt so much pressure to end the streak and were pressing too hard. Perhaps the Gamecocks will suffer from that pressure. The one thing you can count on is that Brent Venables and the Tigers’ defense will make it tough for the Gamecocks to score all night. The defense has been consistently great all season long—especially when they are not on the field for 75% of the game. They are now No.3 nationally in sacks after averaging 6 over the last 4 games, and that includes athletic quarterbacks like Jordan Travis and Malik Cunningham. The Tigers recorded a season-high 8 sacks last week against Wake! I expect the Tigers to get home at least 4 times on Saturday and force several three-and-outs. Make it 7 (really 8) straight over the Gamecocks, and the Tigers will be a bowl win over an 11th straight 10-win season!
CLEMSON 27 South Carolina 13
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