While in many places Rivalry Week is not what it once was (Texas), in South Carolina the Saturday after Thanksgiving means the two main universities of the state go to battle on the gridiron.
Truly an underrated rivalry, this is arguably the best rivalry in the country – but only people invested in the rivalry see this.
South Carolina is in the beginning stages of a building process, and a team that looked dreadful in September is now looking perfectly mediocre heading into Death Valley.
Unlike the Swinney-Spurrier days when both teams had great players and relatively equal talent, the Gamecocks have only a couple of players that would start or see significant playing time for Clemson.
Despite going 2-2 in September and October, the Gamecocks have been a streaky team – going 2-1, dropping three, and then winning four out of the next five to end up at 6-5 and bowl eligible.
The Gamecocks have lost to opponents like Mississippi State and Kentucky and struggled with Eastern Carolina, Massachusetts, and Western Carolina. The real turnaround later in the year helped as the Tigers beat Tennessee (albeit after the Vols collapse) and played Florida hard in the Swamp.
Something important to note about their 6-5 record is that they are 5-2 at home and 1-3 on the road; and that they are 4-1 against non-winning FBS teams and 1-4 against winning FBS teams.
Interestingly, the Clemson Carolina game usually has the least home field advantage of the year for either team because fans of both teams fill each stadium every year. This means that the fans in orange will have to be extra loud to make up for the higher than usual amounts of away fans in the stands.
Clemson is the heavy favorite and has the talent to beat South Carolina in several ways. All of this should make Clemson fans feel comfortable, but upsets do occur.
In the spirit of Rivalry Week, lets look at what South Carolina needs to do to win.
One: The Gamecocks will need to beat Clemson’s offensive line in the running game. They have allowed 4.86 yards per carry (449, 2184 yards, 15 TDs) to date. Clemson’s offensive line is inconsistent in run blocking, but is excellent in pass protection against almost any defense. If Clemson can consistently churn out three to four yards a rush, the Gamecocks are in trouble.
Two: The Gamecocks will need to create turnovers. The Tigers have thrown 13 interceptions and lost six out of 14 fumbles, and the turnover bug finally caught up with them against Pittsburgh. The Gamecocks have forced thirteen picks and 15 fumbles (recovering ten). The Gamecock secondary is stingy and is much better than their bad run defense, so if they can do the first objective, it will make this objective much easier. Clemson has had unusually good luck with winning and turnovers, but this doesn’t change the Gamecock’s plan regardless.
Three: The Gamecocks will need to stop the Tigers in the red zone with field goals or turnovers. The Tigers are 81% in the red zone, and the Gamecocks allow a 71% scoring rate in the red zone. This does not count the touchdown struggles of the Tigers in the red zone.
The above points focus on what South Carolina can do to beat Clemson, but the chances of this happening are less than five percent. The Tigers have superior coaching, talent, experience within the program (even though both teams are extremely young), homefield advantage, and the undefeated monkey off their back.
Prediction: Clemson 27 South Carolina 14