The Tigers hit the road to the cesspool also known as Williams Brice Stadium for a noon tilt with the rival Gamecocks. Clemson is 11-0, ranked third in the CFP Poll, and looking to make a fifth straight trip to the playoff. The Gamecocks come in at 4-7, are 27 point underdogs, and have dropped four of their last five since the upset of Georgia in Athens. Their offense has been seriously hampered by injuries and the last two weeks has seen more off field drama than talk of the upcoming rivalry game.
While the rest of the nation has focused on guys like Joe Burrow and Justin Fields, Tiger QB Trevor Lawrence has quietly been going off over the past month or so. He has hit on 75% of his passes in the past four games, averaging almost 12 yards per attempt, with 13 TD throws and no picks. He has thrown at least 3 TDs in each of his last six games.
Since the scare in Chapel Hill, the offense has found its groove and is hitting on all cylinders. They have scored 50 or more in four straight, and at least 45 in six straight. Clemson has made a more concerted effort to run the ball since that UNC game. The 52-3 win over Wake Forest was the first time they didn’t have 200 yards rushing since that close call against UNC.
The increased production in the running game has led to the receivers getting more opportunities downfield as defenses have had to pay more attention to Travis Etienne, and Lawrence and the receivers have made them pay. When this offense is clicking on all cylinders it is difficult to stop and the Gamecocks are no better equipped to handle it than any other team Clemson has seen.
South Carolina does have a couple of guys along the defensive front that can create some issues. Defensive end DJ Wonnum can get after the QB, and Javon Kinlaw can be a nightmare on the interior. He was a one man wrecking crew in the win over Georgia. For UofSC to have any shot, these two guys will need to live in the Tigers backfield, and they will need to create some turnovers. The Tigers haven’t been prone to turning it over of late though, and are third in the nation in turnover margin.
The Gamecocks are likely to be without top wideout Bryan Edwards who just had his knee scoped on the 20th. Edwards is just one TD shy of a school record, so it is conceivable to think he might see a few snaps in an effort to get that TD, but is the risk worth the reward? This is a meaningless game and he has his draft stock to consider. Second leading receiver Shi Smith should play, but he has been dealing with a hamstring issue. Leading rusher Tavien Feaster has missed the last two games with a groin injury, but you know he will make every effort to play against his former teammates. Second leading rusher Rico Dowdle has been banged up in recent weeks as well.
Freshman QB Ryan Hillinski burst onto the scene in Week 2 after Jake Bentley went down with a foot injury. He has completed 58% of his passes and has thrown 11 TDs to just 4 INTs. However, he has started to look more like a freshman in recent weeks. The injuries to their RBs has severely limited the ground game, and the Gamecock offense is at its best when it is balanced. They have rushed for less than 80 yards in 3 of their last 4, and averaged just 2.6 YPC over that stretch. This week they get to face a Clemson D that only allows 109 rushing yards per game, and one that hasn’t allowed a team 300 yards of offense all season.
Both teams were off last week, giving each an extra week of prep time. It’s a given that Brent Venables, as well as the Clemson secondary, still has a bad taste left in their mouths after allowing over 500 passing yards to Jake Bentley last season. This is a much better secondary this season, with the Tigers having the second best pass defense in the nation. Now they get to face a freshman QB getting his first taste of this rivalry. Venables with two weeks to prepare against a freshman signal caller?
The only hope South Carolina has is running the ball, and that is easier said than done. They could not run it against Tennessee, App State, or Texas A&M, and they won’t be able to in this one. Not nearly enough to give them a shot anyways. That puts all the pressure on the freshman QB to make plays, without his top target, and that plays right into the Tigers hands. Take away the run, get a lead, and come after Hillinksi from every spot on the field.
Clemson has owned the Gamecocks in Columbia. All time they have a 51-32-3 mark against UofSC in Columbia, and have taken 15 of the last 21 played in Willy B. The Gamecock D is good enough to keep them in it for awhile on their home field, but at some point, the talent and depth advantages start to take over. Clemson is just that much better. The Tigers will start to pull away sometime in the second quarter, then will put it away after the half, and cruise to a sixth straight state championship.
Clemson 45 UofSC 10
As usual, we asked for some of your predictions over on Facebook. We chose some at random to include. Anyone guessing the correct final score will receive a free t-shirt. If we have more than one guess it correctly, we will have a random drawing to decide the winner.
- Debby Laidlaw 54-3
- Kenneth Arrowood 49-13
- Rod Hawn 60-7
- Tom Reed 59-7
- Dave Daniel 63-3
- Sean Tanner 56-10
- Mary Beth Tate 59-3
- Lisa Sellers 59-3
- Jeneine Learn 52-6
- Rhonda Daniel 65-3
- Deana Margiotta 63-6
- Eric Yost 41-14
- Kerry Shealy 56-10
- Curtis Graham 52-10
- Chris Breeland 67-16
Also, don’t forget to get entered into the drawing we will have for a free print of Death Valley courtesy of Ballpark Blueprints. You can find all the details on that by clicking here.