The lowdown on South Carolina from a Gamecocks beat writer

The lowdown on South Carolina from a Gamecocks beat writer

Football

The lowdown on South Carolina from a Gamecocks beat writer

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The Clemson Insider recently caught up with David Cloninger to get some insight on South Carolina ahead of Clemson’s game against the Gamecocks. Cloninger covers South Carolina athletics for The Post and Courier in Charleston.

Cloninger hit on a number of topics during the following question-and-answer session, including that offensive outburst for Carolina last week, the Gamecocks’ backfield situation, Carolina’s run defense and more heading into Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity

Carolina’s offensive output was so much different against Tennessee than what it has been for most of the season. Why was that? 

A couple of reasons. According to players, embattled offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield just said, “(Forget) it,” and quit trying to out-scheme everybody. Just letting (quarterback) Spencer Rattler work fast and throw downfield. That’s what Rattler likes to do, and it’s a mystery why it wasn’t done before now. Tennessee has a rotten secondary and the best way to exploit it was to throw the ball, so Satterfield shortened his personnel packages, kept his best players on the field and let it rip.  

The other reason? Why Tennessee didn’t pressure Rattler more was beyond me. Most of the game, the Vols only rushed three. This offensive line has not been up to the challenge of stopping an aggressive blitz, but Tennessee didn’t test it. It dared Rattler to sit back and throw, and he did. 

How do you see Carolina trying to attack a much different challenge in Clemson’s defense? 

Like everyone, they’ll want to start with running the ball. (Running back) MarShawn Lloyd hasn’t played the last three games but told (South Carolina coach) Shane Beamer on Tuesday that he was going to play Saturday (that’s a big “we’ll see” as we’ve heard variations of that the last three weeks and he hasn’t played). If no Lloyd, (tight end) Jaheim (Bell) will line up in the backfield and try to give Clemson a threat to account for either running the ball or catching it out of the backfield. Expect the tempo to stay the same and for Rattler to utilize the rollout. 

Speaking of Carolina’s injured running backs, any word on their status for this week?

Lloyd and Christian Beal-Smith were limited in practice Tuesday. We’ll see if they travel, but I wouldn’t expect either to play. 

How would you describe the season Rattler has had to this point? 

Underwhelming. Last week showed what he could do. It’s partly on the offensive scheme (Rattler has said this is the most complicated offense he’s ever had to learn), and it’s partly on him. There were times early in the season where he’d get pressured, and it was like he just forgot everything he’s learned about playing quarterback. He would just throw the ball away when he had time to try and make a play or throw to a covered receiver when there was another open down the field or simply make a bad throw. Until last week, it was mostly not there.   

You alluded to this earlier, but Clemson’s coaches have mentioned this week how Bell’s role has changed in Carolina’s offense recently. What exactly does that look like for him? 

He can do everything on the field, and it was the biggest criticism of Satterfield early. If he was so valuable, why wasn’t he out there? That’s changed since the Missouri loss. He can play running back. He can play tight end. He can play wide receiver. They’ll even put him out there as the lead fullback in the old Wishbone formation. Whatever he does, he has to be accounted for on the field. And with Lloyd not expected to play, he’ll be RB1.

Clemson’s coaches and players have also talked about how big and athletic Carolina’s defensive front is. Yet the Gamecocks are 110th nationally in run defense. What gives there? 

Not absolving the d-line from blame because they have to be the first to stop the run. Yet the linebackers are drawing the most blame there. First, they’re undermanned because (defensive coordinator) Clayton White runs a 4-2-5 scheme. Second, they lost starter Mo Kaba in the second game of the season, and as much as Sherrod Greene, Brad Johnson and Debo Williams play as hard as they can, they’re just not very consistent. There are a lot of misfit gaps, slow reactions and just getting outrun that happen at the second level, and once that happens, it’s tough for a (defensive back) to shed his assignment and go help, trying to bring a guy down in the middle of the field.

Ultimately, what does Carolina need to do to be more competitive this time around in a series that Clemson has dominated of late?

Besides score? The Gamecocks have to do two things to win: Stop the run and have the same level of success they had on offense last week. They scored last week without getting a turnover or big break (like they did against Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M). Those breaks gave them a cushion, and while they didn’t stop the run against either team, they won every game. Last week, Tennessee only gave its star running back 11 carries, and he averaged over 7 yards per rush. No idea why the Volunteers didn’t keep doing it. If USC can stop Will Shipley (he’s going to get his yards, but if they can keep him out of the end zone) and fling the ball around like it did against Tennessee, the streak can stop.

Photo credit: Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports

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