The football season is nearing its end for most schools. Others, like Clemson, can look forward to at least two more games with a possibility for three. However, before any of that happens, the Tigers must first take on their rivals, the South Carolina Gamecocks in Death Valley. Their SEC foe hasn't been great this year (6-4), but rivalry games tend to bring out the best competition. We sat down with the sports editor of The Daily Gamecock, Joe McLean, and asked him what he thought about the upcoming matchup.
The Tiger Sports (TS): Do you think the comeback loss against the Florida Gators, Will Muschamps' former team, characterizes this year's South Carolina team?
The Daily Gamecock (DG): No. While the loss to Florida was frustrating for fans, it is not indicative of this season or the character of this Gamecock football team. Giving up a 17 point lead is concerning, but that loss can be explained due to poor playcalling, rather than poor play. This team has done well in one score games despite the collapse in Gainesville.
TS: Jake Bentley is being looked at as a possible top-five quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft. Is it realistic to think he could be taken in top two rounds of the draft?
DG: While Jake Bentley has had a solid year as the Gamecock quarterback, it is not realistic to expect him to be taken by an NFL team in the top two rounds of the draft. He has improved as the season has progressed, but his performance in the Kentucky and Georgia games show that he still must improve before being considered for the NFL Draft.
TS: Recent history suggests that the Gamecocks will be severely overmatched against Clemson in Death Valley. Do you think that South Carolina brings more to the table this year than in previous years?
DG: South Carolina will be heavy underdogs in this year’s game, but has a chance to make this year’s Palmetto Bowl more competitive than it has been for the past few years. The offense is much improved with a new offensive coordinator in Bryan McClendon and an improved Jake Bentley. Deebo Samuel is also playing at the level that he did before his injury in 2017. Clemson’s defense is one of the best in the country and will be a challenge, but the Gamecocks have the opportunity to make it a competitive game.
TS: The Gamecock defense lost top linebacker Skai Moore in last year's draft. How do you think that side of the ball has changed since he has left and how do you think they can match up against Clemson's offense?
DG: South Carolina’s defense has a laundry list of injuries, and has not been playing up to expectations, especially for the past two weeks. Star players like D.J. Wonnum and Bryson Allen-Williams have helped the defense win some games this year, but their injury status can change in any given week. Given the play of Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson offense, the South Carolina defense will need to play their best game of the year this Saturday.
TS: How will Deebo Samuel's return to the Palmetto Bowl change Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables' gameplan?
DG: Clemson’s defense is one of the best in the country, but their secondary is their biggest weakness, and have been prone to giving up deep balls to opponents. The threat of Deebo Samuel and his explosiveness could threaten the Tiger’s secondary.
TS: What is your final score prediction?
DG: South Carolina has improved since Will Muschamp arrived, but Clemson is one of the most talented teams in the country. This game will be closer than the last time these teams played in Clemson, but Clemson is currently the more talented team. Clemson 48, South Carolina 20.
The Daily Gamecock (DG): What is key for Clemson to win their fifth-straight game over South Carolina?
The Tiger Sports (TS): Clemson needs to establish the running game early. Duke kept it close for a half of play because the ground game had no footing early on which makes setting up play action a lot harder to do. Trevor Lawrence has looked vulnerable early in the last few games, so making sure Tavien Feaster, Travis Etienne and Adam Choice are rolling on the ground is going to be priority number one.
DG: How do you think Clemson’s run game is going to be against South Carolina?
TS: The Gamecock defense has allowed an average of 192.3 rushing yards per game which ranks 93rd out of 129. Clemson should be able to utilize their three-headed monster at running back to dictate the game flow.
DG: What is Clemson’s biggest weaknesses on both sides of the ball?
TS: On offense, it is probably just consistency. One minute they drive down the field and score a touchdown in 45 seconds. The next drive they take 1:30m off the clock in a three-and-out. Some games they roll good defenses and other games they struggle against bad defenses. Duke was ranked 109th against the run, yet Clemson's run game didn't really get going until the second half. If they can keep it consistent, the offense would be unstoppable. On defense, the biggest weakness would be their ability to force turnovers. The players hit hard and play smart defense, but they really don't try to punch the ball out very much. Their turnover margin for the year is only plus one which is tied for 62nd in the FBS this year.
DG: How do you think Clemson’s defense has improved from last year and how effective do you think it will be on Saturday?
TS: Lawrence lacks anticipation, but that isn't surprising for a freshman. Deshaun Watson didn't develop it really until his second year either, so it's not something I would worry about. One could also look at his arm strength as a negative in that he constantly throws balls like a bullet when he could get the job done with a softer throw that would make it a little easier for his receivers to make the catch. As it gets colder, it gets harder for receivers to make catches thrown at lightning speed and Lawrence needs to learn when to throw those touch passes instead of the bullet.
DG: What is your score prediction?
TS: It's a rivalry game so one would expect some level of competitiveness from both teams. That being said, Clemson has fewer injuries, more depth and more talent on offense and defense, so I think the game ends with a score of Clemson 44, South Carolina 6.