WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.8 CLEMSON vs. SOUTH CAROLINA
- 2022-11-25 09:52:51
Welcome to the Palmetto Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
It’s hard to believe that the last game of the regular season is suddenly upon us. Because the cowardly SEC wouldn’t allow non-conference rivalry games in 2020, this will be the first Palmetto Bowl in Death Valley since 2018. The SEC not only deprived the Tigers of an obvious blowout win over the Gamecocks that year, but it ended the second-longest uninterrupted rivalry in the nation. They had played 111 straight years before the Covid cancellation. The Tigers shut out the Gamecocks 30-0 in Columbia last season and have won the last 5 meetings by a combined score of 214-55! It’s been 9 years since the Tigers lost to the Gamecocks, but this game has a lot more national intrigue after the Gamecocks’ stunning blowout win over No.5 Tennessee last week in Columbia. They were coming off an absolute beat down at Florida 38-6, and the game wasn’t even as close as that. However, Spencer Rattler had the game of his life against the Vols, and the big question is whether he and the Gamecocks can summon another performance like that for a second week in a row, this time on the road in Death Valley against their arch rivals.
Meanwhile, the Tigers looked about as good as they have all season in their 40-10 win over Miami last week. They have put together a couple of dominant wins over the Canes and Louisville since their confounding lone loss at Notre Dame. The Gamecocks got everyone’s attention last week and are sitting just outside the CFP Rankings, so if the Tigers can win this one in convincing fashion, it will help their case for a return to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers moved up to No.8 in the CFP Rankings this week, and, in my opinion, if they win out and either TCU or USC lose, they will make the playoff over the loser of Ohio State and Michigan, which is also a noon game. If Ohio State beats Michigan by a couple scores, it would make it a definite, but either way, the committee places a huge emphasis on conference champions, and the loser of Ohio State/Michigan would not have that. Furthermore, the Tigers have the No.6 strength of record right now and are 6-1 against teams with winning records. Michigan only has 4 such wins, and Ohio State has 5, including Toledo. ESPN loves to talk about Clemson’s “easy schedule” without knowing any of the facts. The Tigers’ opponents this season have a combined win percentage of .629, which is 10th-best in the nation. Of the teams in the playoff hunt, only UGA (.659) and LSU (.641) have better opponent win percentages. Ohio State and Michigan aren’t even in the top 20. At least Ohio State scheduled a home game with Notre Dame this season (albeit they won a close game to start the season when Notre Dame was playing poorly and lost home games to Marshall and Stanford). Michigan, on the other hand, canceled its non-conference game with UCLA in order to make its schedule easier. Should Michigan lose to Ohio State, even by one point, the committee certainly won’t want to reward that strategy because it would set a very bad precedent going forward!
On Tuesday night after the rankings were released, I spoke with Committee Chairman Boo Corrigan and asked him why Clemson is ranked below LSU, which really makes no sense. They each have a blowout loss to a top-15 team (Clemson on the road and LSU at home), and LSU also lost a virtual home game to FSU, which the Tigers beat on the road. The Tigers’ strength of record is No.6, while LSU’s is No.8, which further indicates that Clemson should be ranked ahead of LSU. Nevertheless, LSU should lose to UGA in the SEC Championship and might also lose at A&M this weekend, so it’s a probably a moot point. I also asked Boo about whether the committee continues to value the Tigers' win over then No.10 NC State as a quality win because it was before they lost Devin Leary and went in the tank. Boo, who is the NC State Athletic Director, incidentally, told me a few weeks ago that the committee does take into consideration that NC State was a much better team when Clemson beat the Pack. Absolutely no one in the national media is giving Clemson credit for that as a quality win, but I believe the committee will look at it as a top-10 or top-15 quality win. The audio of my Q&A with Corrigan as well as a full transcript are HERE.
First and foremost, the Tigers must take care of their business, starting with a reinvigorated South Carolina team that has a ton of confidence now and is desperate to end its 9-year drought against the Tigers! On to the matchup…
Clemson leads the all-time series with South Carolina 72-42-4, dating back to 1896…The 72 wins are the most for Clemson against any opponent…A win for the Tigers Saturday would be 8 straight in the series, setting a new rivalry record. Clemson won 7 straight from 1934-40…South Carolina has not led the series since winning the inaugural game in 1896. Clemson won the following two meetings and has led the series ever since, a total of 45,299 days, over 124 years…The Gamecocks have not scored a point against the Tigers since 2019 and have not scored a touchdown against the Tigers since 2018…Dabo Swinney is seeking his 9th win over South Carolina, which would be second-most in Clemson history behind Frank Howard’s 13…This will be the 1,300th game in Clemson history and 119th meeting between the two rivals, the 11th-most meetings between any two teams, one more than Texas vs. Texas A&M…Clemson is 11-1 against SEC opponents in regular season games since 2014…This will be the 7th opponent Clemson has played that has been ranked at some point this season. The Tigers also beat Furman, which is currently ranked in the top 15 of the FCS rankings…Clemson is seeking an 11th win for the 11th time in program history and 8th time under Dabo Swinney…Clemson looks to join Alabama as the only teams to win 100 games since 2015…Clemson has won 26 consecutive non-conference home games, a program record. Its last loss was to South Carolina in 2012. Clemson is 36-3 at home versus non-conference opponents under Dabo Swinney…Clemson is 101-4 against AP unranked teams since 2012… Clemson seniors are 43-7 over the last 4 years, winning the third-most games over that span behind Alabama (45) and Georgia (44)…The seniors will have an opportunity to be the 11th Clemson senior class to win at least 3 ACC Championships…Last week’s win gave the Tigers their 9th perfect regular season record against ACC competition. It is just the 5th time the Tigers have won 8 ACC games in a season…The Clemson seniors are 25-0 at home. A win Saturday would make them the third straight senior class to go undefeated at home and the third-ever in Death Valley. A win would also make them the 5th Clemson class to win 26 home games over a 4-year span, one shy of the program record…The Tigers have the nation’s longest home win streak at 40 games, tied with Notre Dame for the 8th longest streak all-time. It’s the first time a program has won 40 straight home games since Nebraska won 47 from 1991-98. Dabo Swinney joined Bear Bryant (Alabama), Fielding Yost (Michigan) and Darrell Royal (Texas) as the only head coaches to preside entirely over a home win streak of 40 games or more…If not for a last-second field goal by Pitt in 2016, Clemson would have already broken Miami’s all-time home win streak record of 58…Clemson has 481 sacks since 2012, most in the nation. The next-closest is Alabama at 435...Clemson is the only program in the nation to post at least 40 sacks every year of the CFP era. It needs 8 more sacks this season to keep that streak going…Clemson has the most tackles-for-loss since 2012 (1,248). Alabama is 2nd with 1,039…The Tigers have won 68 straight games when leading at halftime, the longest streak in the nation…Dabo has won 160 games as a head coach. He took the sixth-fewest games (186) to reach 150 wins. Urban Meyer holds the record at 176 games, followed by Barry Switzer, Gil Dobie, Fielding Yost and Joe Paterno. Switzer and Paterno are the only ones who, like Dabo, won all 150 games at one school….Clemson has the second-most wins and second-best win percentage since 2015 behind Alabama. The Tigers are 99-11 over that period while Alabama is 101-10. Ohio State is 3rd with a record of 90-10 since 2015. Clemson is also 2nd in wins since 2011 with a record of 141-22. Alabama is 149-16 and Ohio State is 134-20….Clemson has the most Power Five wins (101) since 2013. Alabama is 2nd with 97 and Ohio State is 3rd with 94….Clemson holds the all-time record for most wins over a 5-year span with 69 from 2015-2019….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation (minimum 10 years) at .812. Nick Saban is second at .800, Kansas Head Coach Lance Leipold is 3rd (.744). Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher round out the top 5….Dabo is currently 11th on the all-time win percentage list but climbing quickly. He’s just two spots below legendary Oklahoma Head Coach Bud Wilkinson, who Dabo could pass for 10th next season….A win Saturday would be Dabo’s 161st, passing Bob Stoops for second-most of any coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 14th full season. Next season, Dabo should topple Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo has the most active wins (160) with one school. Mike Gundy is 2nd with 156 at Oklahoma State. Dabo is 9th on the active head coach career win list, 3 more than Mike Leach and 4 more than Mike Gundy….With a win in the Cheez-It Bowl over Iowa State last season, Dabo tied Bobby Bowden for most bowl wins (11) by any ACC coach in history….Clemson has scored at least one rushing touchdown in 65 of 66 games since 2018, the best streak in the nation…Clemson is the only Power Five team with two tight ends that have 4 touchdowns each this season…LB Barrett Carter has 8 TFL’s, 4 sacks, 2 INT’s and 2 forced fumbles. The last two Power Five players to reach those numbers won the Butkus Award (Isaiah Simmons and Georgia’s Nakobe Dean)…BT Potter needs 3 field goals to break Nelson Welch’s Clemson career record of 72. Potter needs just 8 points to become the first ACC player to score at least 100 points in 4 different seasons. Potter is on pace to at least tie James Skalski, Will Spiers and Will Swinney for the most games played in Clemson history. He will make his 52nd start on Saturday, tying Chandler Catanzaro for the most starts by a place kicker in Clemson history…RB Will Shipley needs 40 rush yards to become the 23rd 1,000-yard rusher in Clemson history…DJ Uiagalelei is one of just 8 Power Five quarterbacks with at least 20 pass TD’s and 5 rush TD’s this season…WR Antonio Williams has the most catches (47) by a Clemson freshman since Artavis Scott (76) in 2014…
SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOPSIS
The Gamecocks are 7-4 on the season and, as mentioned, coming off their biggest win in years, scoring on 9 of their 11 possessions as they hung 63 points and 606 total yards on Tennessee. They were fortunate in wins over Kentucky and Texas A&M, with both teams playing without their starting quarterbacks. In fact, A&M had to play its third-string freshman for the first time in that game, and the Gamecocks won a close game at home. However they got here, the Gamecocks played by far their best football of the season last week, and that makes them a dangerous team.
Oklahoma transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler played the best game of his career last week. The Gamecocks were only able to score 6 points the week before against Florida in the Swamp, but Rattler was in the zone last week, and it seemed as if he could do no wrong. He was 30-37 for 438 yards with 6 touchdown passes and no interceptions. For the season, he has completed 67% of his passes for 2,420 yards and 14 touchdowns with 9 interceptions. So he almost doubled his season TD passes in last week’s game alone. Many will point out the similarities between the careers of Rattler, who was benched at Oklahoma before transferring, and DJ Uiagalelei. While there may be some similarities as far as ups, downs and bouncing back from adversity, their personalities are very different. Rattler, going all the way back to his high school appearance in Netflix’s QB1 series, has always struck me as a cocky, selfish prima donna and not a very good teammate. DJ was also had a brief appearance on that show, a freshman backup in high school at the time, but DJ has always been extremely humble, soft-spoken and the consummate teammate who never makes excuses or blames anyone but himself. The big question is whether Rattler will be able to put together two great performances in a row after making clutch, pinpoint throw after throw last week. He’s not the most dangerous runner but is very athletic and able to extend plays with his legs, making passes on the run. The one caveat is that the defense Rattler faced in Tennessee last week is nowhere near what he will face in Death Valley.
Rattler’s favorite target in the passing game is 6’1, 207-pound junior WR Antwane Wells, Jr. (#3). The Richmond, VA native 54 catches with 4 touchdowns and averages 14.2 yards per catch this season. He had a huge game with 11 catches for 177 yards and a rush TD, his only one of the season. Jalen Brooks (#13) is another big-play receiver. The 6’2, 205-pound senior is averaging 15.7 yards on his 30 catches with one TD. The Gamecocks spread the ball around to a lot of different receivers. 5’11, 192-pound senior Josh Vann (#6) only has 16 catches, but 3 of them have gone for touchdowns, and he averages 15 yards per catch. He had 2 catches for 78 yards and 2 scores in last week’s game alone. At 6’3 and 220 pounds, senior Xavier Legette (#17) is their most physically impressive receiver. The Mullins, SC native has just 11 catches for 89 yards and one TD this season, though. The Gamecocks also have 3 tight ends who have combined for 4 touchdown catches this season.
You wouldn’t know it from the score, but the Gamecocks were without leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd (#1) last week due to injury. The 5’9, 212-pound sophomore RB from Wilmington, DE has 9 touchdowns this season, averaging 5.6 yards on his 100 carries. He also has 17 catches for 173 yards and 2 scores. His last game was against Mizzou almost a month ago, but he will play on Saturday. They were also missing Wake Forest transfer Christian Beal-Smith (#8). The 5’9, 205-pound senior has just 34 carries this season but has 5 scores and averages 4.3 yards per carry. He has not played since scoring in the Vandy game 3 weeks ago, but he is expected to play on Saturday as well. Junior TE/H-back Jaheim Bell (#0) has 23 catches and 2 TD receptions this season (both last week), but the 6’3, 232-pound junior also has the second-most carries on the team with 64. He averages 3.6 yards per carry with 2 rushing touchdowns. He had a monster game last week with 5 catches for 39 yards and 2 scores to go along with 82 rushing yards. He is quite the load to tackle in the running game. 5’9, 180-pound sophomore Juju McDowell (#21) averages 3.4 yards on his 56 carries and has 2 scores this season. He had just 3 carries for -4 yards last week. Finally, you can expect to see 6’1, 215-pound Dakereon Joyner (#5) used in the wildcat formation on Saturday, as he did on several plays against Tennessee. He only ran for 21 yards on 6 carries but scored his only 2 rushing touchdowns of the season last week. He also has 5 catches for 85 yards and a score. He’s only passed the ball twice this season, but one of them went 68 yards for a touchdown. Don’t be surprised to see him throw the ball either out of the wildcat formation or on a double-pass! You may recall that Clemson recruited Joyner out of North Charleston, but he chose the Gamecocks because he wanted to play quarterback. He had 28 pass attempts in 2019.
The Gamecocks’ best NFL prospect on the defensive side of the ball is probably CB Cam Smith (#9). 6’0, 188-pound junior from Blythewood, SC has just one interception this season but is a very physical cover corner. Another one is DT Zacch Pickens (#6). The 6’4, 305-pound senior grew up near Clemson in Anderson and was heavily recruited by the Tigers. He has just 1.5 sacks and 3 tackles-for-loss this season, however, with one fumble recovery. 6’3, 295-pound junior DT Tonka Hemingway (#91) from Conway, SC leads the team with 4 sacks and has 7 TFL’s. 6’6, 275-pound junior LB Jordan Burch (#5), a Columbia native, has 3.5 sacks and 7.5 TFL’s. 6’5, 250-pound sophomore LB Gilber Edmond (#8) leads the team with 8 TFL’s, including 2 sacks. 6’4 freshman safety Nick Emmanwori (#21) from Irmo leads the team with 72 tackles, which is never a good sign for a defense. The Gamecocks have 9 different players with an interception this season, including Marcellus Dial (#24) and Darius Rush (#28), who have 2 apiece.
The Gamecocks have an outstanding kicker in junior Mitch Jeter, who is a perfect 9-9 this season and 2-2 over 50 yards with a long of 53. Special teams have been a real strength for this team, reviving the term “Beamer ball” from the days of Shane Beamer’s dad, Frank, at Virginia Tech. The Gamecocks have blocked 6 punts and kicks this season, just one shy of Notre Dame for the national lead. Of course, the Tigers are right behind them in that category with 4 of their own. Punter Kai Kroeger averages 45.8 yards per punt, landing half of his punts inside the 20 and just 5 touchbacks. Josh Vann is a dangerous punt returner. He’s only returned 10 punts this season but averages 15 yards per, which is 3rd nationally. WR Xavier Legette returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Texas A&M, and Juju McDowell has a 51-yard return this season. They have not allowed any touchdown returns this season.
The Gamecocks are ranked No.42 in scoring offense (31.7 points per game), No.96 in rushing offense (129.55 yards/game), No.45 in passing offense (248.5 yards/game) and No.77 in total offense (378 yards/game). They are ranked No.78 in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), No.110 in rush defense (188.36 yards/game), No.43 in pass defense (208.6 yards/game) and No.85 in total defense (397 yards/game). They are 106th in sacks with just 17 on the season and 107th in tackles-for-loss with 52. They are tied for 73rd in sacks allowed with 2.18 per game. Their 3rd down offense is ranked No.52, converting 40.91% of the time, and their 3rd down defense is ranked No.95, allowing conversions 41.5% of the time. Their red zone offense is ranked No.62, scoring touchdowns 84.78% of the time, and their red zone defense is ranked No.60, allowing touchdowns 82.61% of the time. They are tied for 49th with 17 takeaways and 109th in turnover margin at -.55 per game. They are tied for 30th with 11 interceptions and 70th in fumbles gained with 6. Through the first 9 games, the Gamecocks were the least penalized team in the SEC, but they have been hit with 20 penalties over the last 2 games and are now 113th in penalty yards per game at 63.7. Clemson is 52nd, allowing 51 penalty yards per game.
From an injury standpoint, the good news for the Tigers is that WR Beaux Collins will play after missing the last two games due to a separated shoulder. The bad news is that starting OG Marcus Tate is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. However, backup Mitchell Mayes has performed well in relief at both guard spots over the last two games. RB Kobe Pace returned to action last week and scored a touchdown, so the Tigers will have all 3 of their backs in the stable. WR Adam Randall has a broken bone in his hand, but Dabo told me on Tuesday that it has not impeded his ability to catch the ball. My biggest concern is whether it will make him vulnerable to fumbles after the catch--especially given the Tigers' fumble funk over the last 4 games!
The biggest concern with the Tigers by far right now is the turnover trend. They were among the best in the nation at protecting the football for the first 7 games of the season, but since the Syracuse game, they have 12 turnovers in the last 4 games, making them 78th in the turnover margin. Remarkably, they’ve been able to overcome the turnovers in 3 of the 4 games with great defense, but they must reverse that trend this week. They could very easily lose this game or the ACC Championship if they continue turning the ball over 3 or more times per game. I asked Dabo about it on Tuesday, and he agreed that it’s really become psychological at this point, so there is nothing they can do differently at practice other than to preach the importance of ball security like they always do. It’s gotten so bad that normally sure-handed players like Davis Allen, Will Shipley and Antonio Williams have put the ball on the ground. It just takes one game to break the spell, and hopefully this will be the week! The Tigers went a full half last week before it reared its ugly head again.
The weather on Saturday should be absolutely perfect! The forecast is partly cloudy and 60 degrees for the noon kickoff. I expect the Death Valley crowd to be ready for the early kickoff and provide an electric atmosphere. It will be the last time running down The Hill for several great players like KJ Henry, Tyler Davis, BT Potter, Davis Allen and Jordan McFadden, and I can’t imagine these guys losing the only home game in their careers to the Gamecocks.
As good as the Gamecocks looked last week, I have to think that the game was an anomaly. They have looked mediocre at best all season before that and downright dreadful at times. Lightning usually doesn’t strike two weeks in a row, and there’s a big difference between doing it with a night home crowd and doing it against your rivals in Death Valley, where no team has won in 6 years! The Tigers’ defense is also a much different animal than what the Gamecocks saw from Tennessee last week. I expect the Tigers’ front seven to pressure and rattle Rattler early and often. The Tigers’ linebacker trio of Carter, Simpson and Trotter have been nothing short of spectacular over the last couple games, and I can’t wait to see what they do on Saturday. With both Lloyd and Beal-Smith coming back from injury, I think the Tigers’ No.12 rush defense will be able to stifle the Gamecocks’ run game, and that will put all the more pressure on Rattler. Offensively, the Tigers just need to avoid turnovers, and the rest will take care of itself. Shipley, Mafah and DJ have been awesome in the run game, as have Antonio Williams and the tight ends in the passing game. Hopefully, Collins will be in early-season form and add a couple of big plays down field along with Ngata.
On paper, the Tigers have the better team, plain and simple. Added to that, the Gamecocks are desperate to end the 9-year drought against the Tigers and will be pressing. We saw the same thing happen to the Tigers during the 5-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, and that desperation cost the Tigers a couple games that they should have won. The Tigers also have a spot in the playoff at stake. The Gamecocks have had several opportunities to derail the Tigers’ playoff and national championship hopes over the years, and they have never been able to play the spoiler. This year won’t be any different. Make it 8 straight wins over the Gamecocks and 9 years since the last loss! The Tigers take their playoff hopes into Charlotte for another ACC Championship.
The Prowl toward a 21st ACC Championship and potential 7th College Football Playoff continues…
CLEMSON 41 South Carolina 13
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