The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - Last year, Clemson was bound for the school's first appearance in the conference championship game a week after playing South Carolina.

WHAT: Clemson vs. South Carolina
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (81,500) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 27 (7 p.m. EST)
SPREAD: South Carolina by 3
TV: ESPN2

To suggest the roles have been reversed a year later would be a understatement.

The Tigers rode into Columbia at 8-3 after clinching the ACC Atlantic title, but lost to 34-17 to the Gamecocks.

This year, the No. 17 Gamecocks are SEC East champions, with a trip to Atlanta up seven days after heading to Tigertown.

Clemson (6-5, 4-4 ACC) became bowl eligible with last week's win at Wake Forest while South Carolina cruised in a blowout win over Troy a week after locking up the division at Florida.

As interim head coach, Dabo Swinney won his first game against South Carolina—the Tigers' 31-14 win in Death Valley.

Saturday's game is meeting No. 108, and the 102nd consecutive year Clemson's play South Carolina.

Only two games have more tenured rivalries—Kansas vs. Nebraska and Minnesota vs. Wisconsin.

Clemson holds the all-time series record over South Carolina 65-38-4, since the first game in Columbia, which the Gamecocks won 12-6.

This year's meeting is also the 50-year anniversary of the rivalry's first game in Clemson.

Steve Spurrier has experience with the out of conference rivalry game a week before the SEC Championship. He was 1-3-1 when Florida played against Florida State as the SEC East champion.

SOUTH CAROLINA RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT
The key to the Saturday's game?

Clemson's ability to contain South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who's rushed for 1,006 yards—which is second in the SEC to Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton.

Lattimore has been a horse for the Gamecocks. The freshman has 209 carries this season, including a season-high 40 against Florida.


South Carolina freshman running back Marcus Lattimore is second in the SEC in rushing at 1,006 yards this season. (Getty Images)
Lattimore is masterful in his knack for allowing blocks to develop, and making split-second decisions based on what's going on ahead of him. The zone run scheme— which South Carolina primarily runs out of—is the system that Lattimore played in at Byrnes High School as the No. 1 running back in the class of 2010.

He's a bruiser, too.

Clemson defensive ends coach Chris Rumph said earlier this week that he could only recall a handful of times that he's seen Lattimore knocked not fall forward at the end of a run.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia poses a threat on the ground, too. Not only is he able to scramble for yards, but Garcia is also effective when he keeps the ball on options and zone reads.

Since 2007, South Carolina hasn't finished better than 91st in rushing offense.

Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele attributed a lot of South Carolina's success on the ground to coaching. The Gamecocks' first-year offensive line/running game coordinator Shawn Elliot came to Columbia via Appalachian State. The former Mountaineers assistant oversees the nation's 51st ranked rushing offense, which averages 161 yards.

For most of this season, Clemson has been rock solid against the run, improving on a week-by-week basis since the Boston College game. Overall, Steele's unit ranks 40th in the country, allowing an average of 135 yards.

Clemson has allowed four 100-yard rushers—Lance Dunbar (116), Damien Berry (101), Johnny White (105) and Montel Harris (142). Out of those four games, the Tigers' only win was against Dunbar and North Texas.

Simply put, it will all start up front for Clemson.

Da'Quan Bowers continues to play like one of the nation's best. The junior defensive end is a finalist for three national awards—Bednarik, Nagurski and Lombardi.

Bowers has 63 total tackles, second on the nation's ninth-best scoring defense.

For Clemson to have success in slowing down the run, it's imperative Bowers and his colleagues up front play well. South Carolina's typically runs out of the shotgun with multiple wide receivers. Look for the Tigers to have a lot of nickel and dime personnel to guard against the pass.

Since the Clemson defense has been on fire of late, giving up just one touchdown per game in each of the last six weeks, we'll give the slight edge to the Tigers.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. SOUTH CAROLINA FRONT
Key No. 2?

How well Clemson can run the ball.

Jamie Harper's carried the load in the absence of Andre Ellington, who went down in the fourth quarter against Boston College.

In the last two games, Harper has put together 100-yard performances, bringing his season total to 668.


Chances are Andre Ellington will see the field Saturday but how effective he will be after missing the last third of the season remains to be seen. (Roy Philpott)
Ellington, the team's leading rusher with 686 yards, will give it the old-college try on Saturday after sitting out the last three games with a foot injury, which will require surgery at the end of this season.

He's still a game-time decision.

The Tigers will need all hands on board against the nation's seventh-best run defense as South Carolina allows an average of just 96 yards per game.

The Gamecocks do a lot of movement before the snap, while throwing several different even and odd-man fronts. All the pre-snap stuff could cause a few problems for the Tigers.

Tackles Ladi Ajiboye and Travian Robertson will cause a few problems of their own after the ball is snapped.

With defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson dialing up pressure from every direction, he's likely to do just that against the run.

Lately, when Clemson runs the ball, it's been from under center, and it may not be too tough for Johnson to guess what's coming.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. SOUTH CAROLINA SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Most of Clemson's success in the passing game has come on dink-and-dunks with rare big plays downfield.

Kyle Parker will have the chance to put up a fourth-straight 200-yard outing against a defense that's suspect against the pass.

The Gamecock pass efficiency defense is 87th in the country, with a 136.93 average rating.


Kyle Parker will have the chance to put up a fourth-straight 200-yard outing against a defense that's suspect against the pass. (Roy Philpott)
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore could be the most talented member of the South Carolina defense, but he suffered a mild concussion against Troy last week. The other starter at cornerback, Marty Markett suffered a knee injury.

Akeem Auguste has bounced back and forth between free safety and cornerback. He's listed as the starter at safety and as a backup at corner. Strong safety D.J. Swearinger is listed as the starter at strong safety and the backup at free. His backup at strong, Devonte Holloman, doesn't offer much good for his team while in coverage; though he did grab a critical interception last season.

They'll be defending a wide receiver group that's led by DeAndre Hopkins, who leads Clemson with 36 receptions for 408 yards and three touchdowns.

The Tigers' second leading pass catcher, Dwayne Allen, could be an important target down the middle.

Although his presence in the passing game has been minimal over the last three weeks—just four catches—he should be able to get closer to the seven catch mark that he reached against Boston College.

South Carolina's safeties are average, at best. The SPUR—a hybrid outside linebacker/safety—Antonio Allen isn't too shabby. His matchups with Allen will be on to watch.

The battle up front should be interesting, too.

Clemson averages 1.18 sacks allowed. South Carolina is third-best in the country with 3.27 sacks per game.

Defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Devin Taylor lead the team with seven sacks. Again, another interesting matchup—the Gamecock ends versus Chris Hairston and Landon Walker.

Shortcomings in personnel on the backend of Johnson's defense are enough to give Clemson the edge.

ADVANTAGE:

SOUTH CAROLINA PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
With a wide receiver group that could be confused for a basketball team, South Carolina isn't afraid to allow the play-makers go up and get the ball out of the air. And it all starts with Alshon Jeffery.

In his second season, Jeffery, who's listed at 6-foot-4, has 70 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns.

At 6-5, Tori Gurley is second on the team 39 catches for 384 yards and four scores.


In his second season, Alshon Jeffery, who's listed at 6-foot-4, has 70 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns. (Getty Images)
Ace Sanders, the 5-7 speedster, would be the point guard on their basketball team. He's dangerous, too, with 21 catches for 291 yards and two scores.

Garcia, the guy that's throwing them the ball, has been solid with 68 percent completion percentage and 160.7 efficiency rating.

Clemson's secondary has posted good efficiency ratings against the pass. The Tigers are 18th in the nation with a 112.29 average.

The secondary's success goes hand in hand with the pass rush, which Bowers leads with 15.5 sacks—that's the highest in the nation.

South Carolina's offensive line has struggled when protecting its quarterback. The Gamecocks are 79th in the country with 2.27 sacks allowed per game.

Lattimore, who's also a sure-handed pass catcher, could present matchup problems with the Clemson linebackers which are prone to allowing backs and tight ends become viable check-down options.

This will be the best passing game the Tigers have seen all season. For now, we'll give an edge to the Gamecocks.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. SOUTH CAROLINA SPECIAL TEAMS

Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro is 12 of 19 on the season but has made his last four field goal attempts. (Roy Philpott)
Dawson Zimmerman has been solid all season. The Ray Guy Award semi-finalist is 30th in the country with a 43.5 punt average.

His counterpart, Spencer Lanning, has been just as good with nearly 44 yards per punt.

Clemson is better in punt return yard defense—19th. South Carolina is 52nd.

The Gamecocks are four spots better against kickoffs—42nd.

The Tigers gain some separation when it comes to the returns as Marcus Gilchrist has accumulated over 600 yards in punt and kick returns.

But Lanning's consistency on field goals makes this matchup a push. He's 12 of 16 on field goals while Chandler Catanzaro, who has connected on each of his last four attempts, is 12 of 19.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: South Carolina 23 Clemson 19

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