The Final Breakdown

After 364 days of hate, the rivalry finally spills over to the field. It's Clemson vs. South Carolina.

WHAT: No. 17 Clemson at No. 12 South Carolina
WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) - Columbia, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 26 (7:47 p.m.)
SPREAD: South Carolina -4.5
TV: ESPN

The Tigers and Gamecocks will square off on the gridiron for the 109th time in series history Saturday night, marking the 103rd consecutive game between the two schools -- the nation's third-longest streak of consecutive years played.

Much to the chagrin of the orange and purple clad faithful, South Carolina has won the last two.

But history is on Clemson's side. The Tigers lead the all-time series with a 65-39-4 advantage over their rivals from Columbia.

For the first time since 2000, Saturday will mark the fifth time each school is ranked in the top-25.

Clemson and South Carolina have also combined to win 18 games this year - a record for the teams entering the game. Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier have guided both of their teams to 9-2 records.

Let's get it on.

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. CAROLINA SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Last year, the South Carolina secondary ranked as one of the worst in the country. The Gamecocks finished 87th in pass efficiency defense and 97th in pass defense.

Statistically, they're much better in 2011 as South Carolina is third nationally in pass efficiency defense and second in pass defense.


Tajh Boyd has to play better Saturday night than in each of his past three games if the Tigers are to spring the upset. (Roy Philpott)
Still, the numbers from each of the last two seasons probably aren't an accurate representation of good the Gamecock secondary is.

This year, East Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas all threw for at least 248 yards. Of the 12 touchdowns South Carolina has allowed, 10 were against those three teams.

Here's a look at where each opponent South Carolina has played this season ranks nationally in passing offense.

East Carolina: 20
Georgia: 48
Navy: 119
Vanderbilt: 100
Auburn: 106
Kentucky: 110
Mississippi State: 85
Tennessee: 44
Arkansas: 10
Florida: 86
The Citadel: 86 in FBS

Four South Carolina players have three interceptions, including Stephone Gilmore, C.C. Whitlock, Antonio Allen and D.J. Swearinger.

The most interesting matchup on the perimeter will be Sammy Watkins and Gilmore. Though Gilmore has shown a pension to get beat deep, he's supremely talented and plays well against big-time opponents.

Also keep an eye on who covers Dwayne Allen. Antonio Allen could be a better coverage option than Devonte Holloman. The only hitch -- Allen might need to stay on the line and help out in pass protection, especially if left tackle Phillip Price isn't 100 percent.

Boyd, who's thrown six interceptions and three touchdowns over the last three games, will need to be kept on his feet if he's going to find any receivers down field.

Defensive ends Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor have combined for 15 sacks. Getting Phillip Price back in the fold will be critical to the Clemson pass protection. Without him, those three could make what happened at N.C. State look tame.

Clowney did suffer a mild concussion against The Citadel last week, so his status for Saturday is uncertain.

Assuming Boyd's able to keep the ball away from Gamecock defenders, the advantage goes to the Tigers.

For now, it's hard to project an eye-popping performance from the Clemson quarterback.

The home team gets the nod, thanks to Boyd's performances in his last three games, but barely.

ADVANTAGE:

CAROLINA RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Connor Shaw, a dual-threat quarterback, could give the Clemson defense fits with his ability to make plays with his feet. A good many mobile quarterbacks have had success on the ground against Tiger defenses under Kevin Steele.

It's our guess that part of that has to do with the high volume of press-man coverage plays on the outside. You can bet the Clemson cornerbacks will be trying to jam the South Carolina wide receivers at the line since Spurrier utilizes so many underneath crossing routes.

But back to the ground.


Without Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina has turned to QB Connor Shaw in the zone-read game even more to maintain a balanced attack. (Getty Images)
At running back for the Gamecocks is Brandon Wilds, not All-American Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a knee injury against Mississippi State last month.

Wilds has a lot of ground to make up if he's going to catch Lattimore and lead the team in rushing this season. Lattimore has 163 carries for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns. Wilds has carried 100 times for 462 yards with three scores.

South Carolina certainly misses Lattimore, but Wilds isn't a bad second option. One might call him a poor man's Lattimore. They're pretty similar in stature and running style.

Bruce Ellington also adds another dimension to the run game as the trigger man in the Gamecocks' wildcat package but he suffered a high-ankle sprain last week. Unlike Clowney, his status is certain - he'll play.

Even with all the skill, the Clemson defense could be able to successfully handle the South Carolina run game as the South Carolina offensive line is relatively young and not very good. Tackle Kyle Nunn, the Gamecocks' best lineman, is done for the season.

Andre Branch, the Tigers' top tackler, should be able to have his way with true freshman right tackle Mike Matulis.

The matchup between Brandon Thompson and center T.J. Johnson -- now the best South Carolina offensive lineman -- will be one of the more intriguing matchups in the trenches.

Stephone Anthony could see plenty of playing time since South Carolina uses a lot of one running back, one tight end formations.

As one might expect from a freshman playing a position that demands so much, Anthony has struggled at times this season. He's logged 190 snaps, and plenty of them have been very meaningful. he has 25 tackles and four tackles for loss.

Here's believing that Shaw will do plenty to keep the Clemson defense on the field in the zone-read game and the offense on the sidelines.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. CAROLINA FRONT SEVEN
Only three teams have rushed for over 200 yards against South Carolina this season -- Auburn, Navy and The Citadel. Navy and The Citadel utilize triple-option attacks, so their 200-yard outputs should be taken with a grain of salt.

Georgia, Arkansas and Florida rushed for 188, 136 and 142 yards, respectively.


Clemson needs a maximum effort from Andre Ellington to have a chance to win Saturday night in Columbia. (Getty Images)
Of the 11 touchdowns scored on the South Carolina run defense, five came from the three schools that put together 200-yard performances.

Meanwhile the Clemson run game has struggled to convert on short-yardage situations over the last few weeks. Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris say those issues -- for the most part -- are a result of just one blown assignment.

In three of the last four games, Clemson has totaled less than 100 yard as a team, one of those was without leading rusher Andre Ellington, who's rushed for 871 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

The South Carolina linemen, which includes talented tackles Travian Robertson and Kelcy Quarles, are solid across the board. The starters on the line, and even a few of the backups, will play on Sundays. Behind them, there's a drop in talent, kind of like Clemson.

Three of the Gamecocks' top five tacklers are defensive backs. That's usually not a good sign.

Given the struggles Tigers have had on the ground, this matchup is too close to call.

ADVANTAGE:

CAROLINA PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Even when Stephen Garcia was a part of the team, the South Carolina air attack was nowhere close to the "fun and gun" days of Spurrier's past. The Gamecocks rank ranks 99th in the country with 174.45 yards per game.


Alshon Jeffrey caught five passes for 141 yards and one touchdown last year against the Tigers. (Getty Images)
With Shaw as the signal caller South Carolina is 5-1. Shaw has completed 98 of 151 passes for 1,008 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

The Gamecocks' go-to receiver, Alshon Jeffery, is having a down season - recording 43 catches for 585 yards with six touchdowns. While many projected him to be a first-round draft pick after this year, but the jaw-dropping receptions and physical play he was so well-known for last year as virtually disappeared.

Ace Sanders is second on the team with 25 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns. Backup tight end Rory Anderson is the only other Gamecock pass catcher with multiple touchdown receptions.

What hurts the South Carolina passing game is the lack of a quality offensive line. As mentioned above, Branch should have his way with Matulis.

Branch and Malliciah Goodman should be able to apply plenty of pressure to Shaw.

Coupled with the fact Clemson ranks 26th in the country against the pass, we'll give the nod to the Tigers.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. CAROLINA SPECIAL TEAMS
Bruce Ellington leads South Carolina with 17 kickoff returns for 377 yards. Victor Hampton is a feast or famine return man with seven returns for 178 yards with a long of 55.

Ace Sanders leads the team with 14 punt returns for 130 yards, including a 68-yard return for a touchdown in the first game of the season.


Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro has been perfect since connecting on the game-winning kick against Wake Forest. (Roy Philpott)
Clemson has allowed 9.83 yards per punt this year, which includes two touchdowns.

For South Carolina, Joey Scribner-Howard has punted 44 times with an average of 39.2 while Jay Wooten has made 5 of 8 field goals. Of his kicks, only one wasn't inside the 40-49 range.

For Clemson, Dawson Zimmerman averages 42.6 yards per punt. Chandler Catanzaro has hit on a respectable 17 of 22 field goal attempts - including the game-winner that clinched the ACC's Atlantic Division championship.

South Carolina gives up an average of 21.41 yards per kickoff return and Clemson has an explosive threat in Watkins. Because his shoulder injury, it's probably a safe bet that he won't be returning any kicks against the Gamecocks.

Home teams usually get the advantage in the special teams battle. We'll stick with that.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: South Carolina 16 Clemson 14

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