By Will Vandervort.
Here is a look at all the top matchups for Saturday’s game as No. 21 Clemson host South Carolina at noon in Death Valley. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Clemson’s defensive line vs. USC’s offensive line: In last year’s matchup, the Gamecocks averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. Clemson controlled the line of scrimmage and was without a doubt the better team up front. USC is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season and the offensive line has allowed just 20 sacks. The Tigers rank seventh nationally in rushing defense and are allowing opponents 2.9 yards per carry. They lead the nation in tackles for loss and rank fifth in sacks. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s defense vs. Pharoh Cooper: The sophomore wide receiver is the most diverse player on the USC offense. He leads the team with 58 catches for 921 yards and eight touchdowns. He is averaging 8.2 yards per carry out of the Wildcat formation and he has thrown for two touchdowns as well. Though Cooper ran for just 18 yards out of the Wildcat last year on four carries, but when he ran it a fifth time he threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds that sealed the Gamecocks’ victory. The Wildcat has been a thorn in the Tigers’ side during the five-game losing streak in the series. Advantage: USC
Clemson’s defense vs. Dylan Thompson: The Gamecocks’ quarterback has thrown for 3,031 yards and 23 touchdowns this season and is completing 60 percent of his passes. He needs just 176 yards to set a single-season passing record at USC. But Thompson has thrown 11 interceptions this year and has lost several fumbles as well. He is turnover prone and pressure has played a huge role in each of those turnovers. Clemson has recorded 39 sacks, which ranks fifth nationally, and ranks second in the country in passing defense. Opponents are averaging just 151.5 yards through the air on Clemson and have completed just 49.7 percent of their passes. Clemson has the best pass rusher in the game in All-American defensive end Vic Beasley, while Grady Jarrett at defensive tackle and Stephone Anthony at linebacker have 17 combined tackles for loss. Beasley has a team-high nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s running game vs. USC’s run defense: The Tigers are very average at best at running the football – 146.5 yards per game. The Gamecocks are awful at stopping the run – 213.5 yards per game. They have just 41 tackles for loss, which ranks 124th in the nation. Tyshon Dye’s emergence as a legitimate runner gives Clemson another viable option in the running game to go along with Wayne Gallman who has improved with each game. Advantage: Clemson
Deshaun Watson vs. USC’s defense: With No. 4 back in the lineup, Clemson’s offense should be back to full strength. How much will Clemson run the freshman quarterback? Who knows? But his presence in the offense and his threat to run the football out of the zone read is enough to keep the Gamecocks honest. Also, Watson is completing 67 percent of his passes this year, while the USC secondary is allowing opponents to complete 62 percent of their passes. It also does not help that Brison Williams will move from safety, where he has played the last two weeks, back to cornerback where he will start for the injured Rico McWilliams, who has been ruled out of the game due to a concussion suffered against South Alabama. Freshman Chris Lammons will start opposite Williams at the other cornerback position. Also keep in mind the Gamecocks rank 119th in sacks and have 12 this season. They have gotten very little pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The question in this matchup is how long can Watson go? He has only played in two quarters since Oct. 11. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: South Carolina will get some yards and will score some points. The Gamecocks are too good offensively to keep off the scoreboard. Clemson on the other hand has elite talent on defense and it is hard to move the football with any consistency against them. It doesn’t matter who plays quarterback—though it will be Watson—the key is the Tigers taking care of the football. If Clemson wins the turnover battle and forces the Gamecocks to drive the football 60, 70 and 80 yards all afternoon, the Tigers will win the game. Plus, with Watson back, Clemson’s offense should be able to move the football consistently against a bad USC defense. USC’s five-game winning streak in the series will end on Saturday.
Prediction: Clemson 24, South Carolina 14