On the day before the biggest game of the year, here is your Thanksgiving weekend Five for Friday…
1. There is a lot on the line for the Gamecocks. Clemson has a great chance to end some impressive streaks in Saturday’s game. In some cases, this is the final chance to spoil perfection.
South Carolina has a 17-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation. Connor Shaw has never lost a home game as the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback, and a win over the Tigers would cap off that career mark on his Senior Day. Plus, I’ll be the one to point out the obvious fact that the Gamecocks have won four straight against the Tigers in the rivalry.
All of these streaks are in jeopardy. Something tells me South Carolina might have more on its mind than protecting trends, but it’s still fun to talk about.
2. Whatever you think about stopping Connor Shaw, think the opposite. For any dual-threat quarterback, the narrative is always the same: Make him a one-dimensional player by closing off his running lanes. Let the opposition try to beat you by throwing the football.
In 2011 and 2012, that was the case. Shaw ran the ball poorly in losses. He was worse as a thrower when asked primarily to chuck the ball around.
But that’s not the case this season. Two of Shaw’s three best rushing games in terms of attempts and yardage were in losses to Georgia and Tennessee. Those teams allowed him to run a little bit—he surpassed the 70-yard mark in both games—while limiting his ability to complete passes.
Against Georgia, he was decent as a passer, completing 16 of 25 passes for 228 yards. His quarterback rating was about 167, the sixth-best single-game rating for him this season.
But against Tennessee, Shaw had his worst game outside of UCF, where he was injured early and only attempted two passes. He only completed seven passes in 21 attempts and threw his only interception of the season. It was a forgettable performance that supplied a blueprint for success for Brent Venables.
If Tennessee’s defense can stymie Shaw, then Clemson’s certainly can. But it’s easier said than done, and it gets tougher when Shaw becomes a passer first. It may seem counterintuitive to force the Gamecocks to run the football, but that seems to be the recipe for victory.
3. Speaking of running the ball, what about that Davis kid? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Clemson’s run defense has gotten worlds better in the second half of the season. Even against Florida State, the Tigers held the Seminoles in check on the ground. It was just about the only thing Clemson did well the entire night.
Davis ranks 16th in the nation with 111.2 rushing yards per game. He is equally capable of carrying the load and busting big plays, compiling more than 100 yards on seven occasions this season.
Tennessee’s defense actually didn’t stop Davis. He ran the ball 21 times for 137 yards, pacing the Gamecock offense throughout the game as Shaw struggled. Yet the Gamecocks still lost.
The good news for Clemson fans is that the Tigers have shown a propensity to hold featured backs and vaunted running games in check this season.
Clemson held Andre Williams of Boston College to 70 yards rushing—more than 110 yards beneath his season average of 188.5. The only other top-50 back the Tigers have faced is Virginia’s Kevin Parks, who had about as many yards in the meeting (82) as his season average (84.2).
The Gamecocks rank 25th in the country in rushing offense this season. Clemson has faced three teams ranked better than South Carolina in that category (Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Florida State), and it held all of them below their season average.
The Yellow Jackets were 68 yards off their pace against the Tigers. The Eagles came up 125 yards shy of their season average. The Seminoles were 90 yards short of their season average in a matchup with the Tigers.
Sure, the presence of a mobile quarterback is a problem. But Clemson’s track record against good running teams speaks for itself.
4. Even given the enthusiasm surrounding this game, fans are still apprehensive about a fifth straight loss. All indications are that Clemson won’t take as many fans as usual down to Williams-Brice Stadium this year. This is puzzling considering the magnitude of the game.
Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the streak, maybe it’s Thanksgiving weekend—there are a lot of potential causes. Truthfully, it’s probably a combination of all of those elements.
But Clemson fans aren’t super excited about traveling to watch the Tigers play in Columbia, which is still a mystery to me. A BCS bowl is on the line. It’s a chance to avoid a historically bad stretch of futility against an in-state rival. A spot in the top ten is assured with a victory.
But it seems like fans aren’t confident about any of this. Justified or not, this will be a “show-me” game for Tiger fans frustrated about the lack of success against the Gamecocks in the Dabo Swinney era.
5. Even the ACC shouldn’t screw this up. The three major ACC-SEC rivalries all seem to be trending toward the Atlantic Coast Conference as kickoffs approach.
Florida State should demolish Florida. It’s more about margin of victory than victory or defeat for the Seminoles, who should be in full-fledged hangman mode by the end of the third quarter if recent performances are any indication.
Georgia will line up with a backup quarterback against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have won 11 of 12 in the series, but this is a great chance for a relatively healthy Tech team to steal one as a small underdog in this rivalry.
And then there’s Clemson. Tajh Boyd has been the best November quarterback in the country—a stark contrast from recent seasons. Jadeveon Clowney—the number one concern for the Tigers coming into the year—has been a virtual no-show. Clemson is healthy, and South Carolina is not.
Consider this a golden opportunity for the ACC to sweep these games.