Clemson vs. South Carolina: Who has the edge?

Clemson vs. South Carolina: Who has the edge?

Football

Clemson vs. South Carolina: Who has the edge?

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Clemson (8-3) will try for its seventh straight win over South Carolina (6-5) when the rivalry series resumes Saturday in Columbia. Kickoff from Williams-Brice Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

Clemson’s offense vs. South Carolina’s defense: The Tigers put it all together against Wake Forest last week to produce season-highs in points and yards. That despite the constant attrition Clemson has dealt with on that side of the ball.

Of late, it’s been out wide. Clemson will again be without its top two receivers, Justyn Ross and Joseph Ngata (in addition to Frank Ladson Jr.) on Saturday, but will that be it? E.J. Williams is still questionable after missing last week’s game with a leg injury unrelated to the knee injury he dealt with earlier in the season, though freshmen Beaux Collins and Dacari Collins have filled in admirably.

Meanwhile, Carolina has one of the nation’s top pass defenses, allowing just 186 yards a game through the air. That ranks 14th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The key for Clemson’s depleted passing game might be for D.J. Uiagalelei, who’s still dealing with that sprained right knee, to complete enough passes to simply keep the Gamecocks’ defense honest. Which is where the Tigers’ running game comes in.

The ground is where Clemson largely kept the ball against Wake Forest, racking up a season-high 333 rushing yards and more than 6 yards per carry. Kobe Pace and Will Shipley returned after being held out against Connecticut as a precaution and each surpassed 100 yards on the ground. Pace, with his career-high 191 yards, nearly got to 200.

Having a healthy offensive line with the return of guard Will Putnam certainly helped. Now the running game will try its hand against a Carolina defense that hasn’t been nearly as good at containing teams on the ground. The Gamecocks are yielding more than 171 rushing yards on average and gave up 164 alone to Auburn’s Tank Bigsby last week. Teams are ripping off more than 4.5 yards per tote against Carolina.

But Carolina, which has yet to allow more than 20 points at home, has been good at halting offenses’ momentum at times by taking the ball away. Nobody has forced more turnovers in the SEC than the Gamecocks (22). Clemson has turned it over multiple times in four of its last five games, and the Tigers are coming off a three-turnover day against Wake Forest, which matched their season-high. Advantage: Draw

Clemson’s defense vs. South Carolina’s offense: On the other side of the ball, the Tigers keep doing what they’ve been doing all season, holding even the best offenses they’ve gone up against to (basically) half of their season average in points.

Clemson held Wake Forest, then the No. 2 scoring offense in the country, to its lowest total of the season (27) and will take the nation’s eighth-best scoring defense (16.4 points allowed per game) into Williams-Brice. South Carolina, meanwhile, is barely averaging 23 points on offense, good for just 104th nationally.

The Gamecocks are on their third quarterback with Zeb Nolan and Luke Doty both injured. Jason Brown has stepped in behind center as a result, but, as expected, the bulk of Carolina’s offensive success during their 2-1 run over that stretch has come on the ground. With ZaQuandre White (6.9 yards per carry) giving the running game a lift, Carolina ran the ball 83 times for 433 yards in its last two wins over Florida and, most recently, Auburn. The lone loss during that stretch (to Missouri)? The Gamecocks threw it (30 times) nearly as much as they ran it (35), which isn’t what they want.

Problem is, Clemson’s defense has been one of the best all season at containing opposing running games. The Tigers are allowing less than 104 yards on average on the ground (14th nationally) and have been suffocating in that department the last two weeks in particular. UConn and Wake Forest combined to muster 15 net rushing yards against the Tigers, who racked up a season-high eight sacks against the Demon Deacons last week.

Carolina has some weapons in the passing game in Josh Vann (16.4 yards per reception) and tight end Jaheim Bell (15), but can Brown consistently make the throws against a Clemson defense in the top 50 nationally, too, in passing yards allowed? Odds are the Tigers are going to try to take away Carolina’s ground game and make him try. Advantage: Clemson

Special teams: B.T. Potter has been money ever since that hiccup of a day against Florida State late last month, connecting on all eight of his field-goal attempts since. Keeping that going would help if Clemson’s offense moves the ball into Carolina territory but bogs down before reaching the end zone.

Carolina’s kicker isn’t too shabby either. Parker White has made all but one of his 14 attempts this season, including a 54-yarder against Kentucky. The fifth-year senior ranks sixth in the FBS in field-goal percentage (92.9) and is just four points shy of becoming the Gamecocks’ all-time leading scorer.

Both punters (Carolina’s Kai Kroeger and Clemson’s Will Spiers) are averaging more than 42 yards per boot. Vann is averaging nearly 12 yards on punt returns for Carolina, though he’s only gotten six cracks at it. Advantage: Draw

Bottom line: Clemson’s offense is fresh off its most complete performance of the season, but will that same version show up Saturday night? The Tigers have scored more than 17 regulation points just once on the road, but it’s hard to see Carolina, with a third-string quarterback, scoring more than that on this Clemson defense.

Prediction: Clemson 27, Carolina 13

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