Thomas is key in Columbia

CLEMSON – November 24, 2012 was a night that Brandon Thomas would probably rather forget.

Over the last two seasons, Clemson's senior left tackle has developed into one of the ACC's best offensive linemen. He was a first-team All-ACC selection last fall, and is in strong contention to repeat that honor next month.

But that didn't seem to matter much against South Carolina and standout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney ran roughshod over Thomas and the rest of Clemson's offensive line, piling up a Memorial Stadium-record 4.5 sacks in USC's 27-17 victory.

Saturday, Thomas gets one more chance against Clowney – and one more chance to add a win over South Carolina to his resume. He says he's more than ready for both in a 7 p.m. kickoff between No.6 Clemson (10-1) and No.10 South Carolina (9-2).

"I consider it a big challenge for me, and I look forward to it, as I look forward to any competition," he said. "He's a great player and it's going to be fun Saturday."

Thomas has done plenty of film study of that ugly night, and says he has plenty to learn from it. "You study your film, your past film, so you can correct things," he said. "I did some things well and I didn't do some things well. Looking to this year, I'm going to look back at that film and try and correct some things."

How has Thomas improved from a year ago?

"I think it's being more physical," he said. "Last year I don't think I was as physical as I am now. My technique has gotten better. Those two things will help me go a long way in this game."

At one point this fall, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Thomas was the only offensive player who was performing well. A subject of constant speculation about moving around the line – to left guard or right tackle – he has been a rock at left tackle, and ensconced there with sophomore Isaiah Battle's emergence at right tackle. Thomas said Battle has been "progressing and getting better each week."

Morris says Thomas is ready for his big night.

"Brandon didn't play well against (Clowney) last year but Brandon has been playing very well this year," Morris said. "He's been the most consistent player we've got, he's playing exceptionally well. It'll be a great challenge for him."

So what will Thomas change? Not much. Expect him to receive a little more help Saturday: Morris said Monday that he gave Thomas help in the form of extra bodies "five or six times" last season, and that wasn't enough.

But Thomas' basic preparation will remain the same.

"I'm going to practice like I've always practiced," he said. "I don't think I'm going to change anything. I think I'm good enough that I don't have to change anything more to focus on that. I'm just going to focus on me. I'm not going to change up my technique, or anything."

Clowney will move across the line: Morris noted Monday that he has lined up this season at both defensive end slots, nose tackle, linebacker "and even corner," he joked.

Thomas will help Battle, making his third career start, prepare accordingly.

"We're in there talking, watching film together," he said. "We point out key things to watch for. He's a good player so you have to watch for anything he does out there. They like to move him around a lot. I think Isaiah will be ready for him."

Saturday will be Thomas' final shot at a victory over South Carolina – with a win, the Gamecocks would have their longest win streak over the Tigers in the rivalry's history.

Thomas said "it's going to mean something to actually get a win against them," but said his senior class's reputation won't be irrevocably damaged with a loss.

"We've done a lot of good things here. I don't think this one thing will hurt us," he said. "Some might think so, but I think we've played great as a class and a whole. I don't consider it a gaping hole of any kind. Of course we could have played better every single game. But I don't consider it being a gaping hole in our reputation as a class."

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