The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - No. 6 Clemson looks to end a four-game losing streak to No. 10 South Carolina Saturday night in Columbia.

WHAT: No. 6 Clemson vs. No. 10 South Carolina
WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium - Columbia, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 30 (7 p.m.)
SPREAD: South Carolina by 4.5
TV: ESPN2

SOUTH CAROLINA RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
The combination of Mike Davis and Connor Shaw usually spells disaster for opposing front sevens. It has through much of this season.

Davis is second in the SEC with 1,152 yards. He's also scored 10 touchdowns. Shaw is second among South Carolina rushers with 417 yards and three scores.


Mike Davis is second in the SEC with 1,152 yards. He's also scored 10 touchdowns. (Getty Images)
The two guys behind Davis are more than serviceable backups. Shon Carson has 254 yards and Brandon Wilds has 202 in five games.

Look for Wilds, who has missed time this season because of injury, to be the No. 2 back behind Davis on Saturday. He's a similar kind of runner to former South Carolina running back and current 49er Marcus Lattimore. Some call Wilds a poor man's Lattimore.

Clemson fans don't need to be reminded about Shaw's running ability. In 2011, the last time he played against the Tigers, Shaw rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.

But this is a much different Clemson defense. It's a different coordinator and a different philosophy.

When it came to dealing with dual-threat quarterbacks, the biggest issue for those past Tiger defenses was the commitment to man-coverage. When things broke down, guys like Shaw could scramble through wide-open running lanes. Those creases aren't so inviting against zone defenses, and that's what Brent Venables prefers to call.

Although that doesn't necessarily mean Shaw won't get anything on the ground against Clemson. He's very much a threat in the zone read game.

For the most part, Clemson has been strong against the run this season. Gurshall had a big night to open the season. There was the second half hiccup against Syracuse which led to 323 yards by the Orange. And, of course, there was the annual date with the Georgia Tech triple-option.

Clemson is one of two teams to hold the nation's leading rusher [Boston College's Andre Williams] below 100 yards this season. Florida State's four-headed run game monster was held to just 121 yards on 38 carries.

You can bet that Steve Spurrier will want to take the air out of the ball and keep the Clemson offense on the sidelines like he did in the second half of last year's game. That shouldn't happen again on Saturday.

Led by Grady Jarrett, Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony, the Tigers' run defense is markedly better than it was a season ago. They'll narrowly win this matchup.

ADVANTAGE:

SOUTH CAROLINA AIR ATTACK VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Connor Shaw might be the most underrated quarterback in the country, completing 144 of 233 passes (61.8%) on the season.


Connor Shaw might be the most underrated quarterback in the country, completing 144 of 233 passes (61.8%) on the season (Getty Images)
Yep, that's pretty good. Shaw has also 1,983 yards with 20 touchdowns and one interception. Not too shabby.

His passer rating of 160.8 is 13th in the country. Among those behind him -- Aaron Murray, Derek Carr, Brett Hundley and Jordan Lynch -- those guys are pretty good, right? Well, so is Shaw.

And he's got a nice little arsenal of weapons to work with on Saturday. The running backs can catch passes. Davis is tied for second on the team with 30 catches. Damiere Byrd also has 30. His 549 yards are also second among Gamecock pass catchers.

Bruce Ellington is the go-to guy. He leads the team in all three receiving categories receptions [39], yards [584] and touchdowns [six].

The tight ends are serious matchup problems for anybody. Rory Anderson has 17 catches for 235 yards. Jerrell has 10 for 170 and a score.

Clemson's secondary has worked its way into top 25 pass defenses in the country. They're 16th in the country, giving up an average of 199.6 yards per game. The number is skewed, given the last two opponents -- Georgia Tech and The Citadel, a pair of triple-option teams.

Regardless, the group has shown serious signs of improvement from a year ago. Bashaud Breeland's strong play at cornerback is a big reason why. He and the rest of the Clemson defensive backfield will be without one of its starters. Travis Blanks is done for the season after tearing his ACL against The Citadel. Freshman Jayron Kearse will step into his spot as the starting free safety.

While Kearse has been dependable this season, it certainly hurts to lose a starter, particularly in a position where the mistakes are magnified.

It helps that Clemson has a strong pass rush. Led by Vic Beasley, the Tigers might struggle when it comes to applying pressure to Shaw. The Gamecocks have given up 1.82 sacks per game. Shaw's elusiveness and Spurrier's pension for calling pressure release plays -- screen passes to the running backs -- should help slow down Beasley & Co.

And Shaw hasn't lost a start in Columbia. At the least, he'll win this matchup.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. SOUTH CAROLINA FRONT SEVEN
Even with a young group of linebackers, South Carolina is 32nd in the country against the run. The Gamecocks have allowed an average of 143.64 yards per game this season.


Tajh Boyd figures to be an integral part of the Clemson ground game Saturday night. (Getty Images)
Clemson has struggled to find consistency with its running game, particularly between the tackles. The Tigers are 59th in the country, rushing for an average of 178 yards per game. They've eclipsed the 200-yard mark just twice this season -- at Maryland and last week against The Citadel.

Roderick McDowell continues to lead the team in rushing with 845 yards. Boyd is second with 268 yards but is first with eight touchdowns.

The running back corps is banged up. C.J. Davidson has missed time because of a knee injury, but is expected to be available on Saturday. Zac Brooks [shoulder] will be available, but he's having a scope on Monday.

Led by Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina's strength on defense is the defensive line. While Clowney may not be having the kind of season that some folks expected he would, he's a serious threat as a run defender. Not counting his sacks, Clowney has 6.5 tackles for loss.

Linebackers Skai Moore and Marcquis Roberts are first and third on the team in tackles with 48 and 42, respectively.

This season South Carolina has allowed one 100-yard rusher, and that was Todd Gurley, who had 132 yards for Georgia.

The Gamecocks should do a good job of bottling up McDowell and any other runner out of the Clemson backfield.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON AIR ATTACK VS. SOUTH CAROLINA SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
After many years of having top-quality NFL talent in its secondary, South Carolina's defensive backfield is down this year. Really down.


Sammy Watkins has five touchdown catches in the month of November, but has never reached the end zone against South Carolina. (Getty Images)
Cornerback Victor Hampton is eyeing a career in the League. But, right now, he's about the only one back there with a legitimate shot to play on Sundays, Mondays and Thursday nights.

So, one would have to think that Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant will all have big evenings in the state capitol. They should.

After a forgettable performance against Florida State, Boyd has gotten back to his usual, spectacular self. Bryant and Watkins have been really, really good, too. Respectively, they're 15th and 16th in the country in receiving yards during the month of November -- 332 and 331. Watkins has five touchdown catches during that span. Bryant has two.

That being said, South Carolina is 17th in the country in pass defense, giving up just over 200 yards per game. The Gamecocks have been pretty stingy at home, too.

Mississippi State's Dak Prescott has the highest yardage total by an opponent at Williams-Brice this season -- 235. Kentucky is the only opposing team with more than one touchdown pass in Columbia this season -- Jalen Whitlow threw two for the Wildcats.

But, against top-tier quarterbacks, South Carolina has had some issues. Aaron Murray had 309 yards and four touchdowns for Georgia. UCF's Blake Bortles had 358 yards with two scores and two interceptions.

Speaking of top-tier quarterbacks, those are about the only ones that South Carolina has faced this season. The Gamecocks haven't faced one since they traveled to Florida to play UCF in the last week of September.

By South Carolina's standards, this secondary is very average. Boyd should be able to exorcise some of the demons that have faced him in previous years against South Carolina if he's got time. But Clowney and Quarles will certainly have something to say about that. Clemson is giving up 2.46 sacks per game, so it's probably safe to assume they'll be able to apply some pressure to Boyd.

ADVANTAGE:


Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro is a major reason the Tigers have the edge in special teams. (Roy Philpott)
SPECIAL TEAMS
Pharoh Cooper and Ellington have been the top kick return options for South Carolina. Both average just a shade over 21 yards per return. Each has worked in the punt return game, but the Gamecocks average just 3.8 yards per punt return.

Clemson's punt return game is much better than its kick returns -- Adam Humphries averages 10.7 per return. But it's probably safe to assume that Watkins will be deep on kick returns. His presence back there is quite threatening, even though he averages 19.6 yards per return. T.J. Green is No. 1 on the team with a 21-yard average.

Both teams have dependable field goal kickers. Elliott Fry is 14 of 17 for the Gamecocks. Chandler Catanzaro has hit 12 of 13.

South Carolina's Tyler Hull averages 38.2 yards per punt. Clemson's Bradley Pinion averages 39.7.

Over the course of the season, South Carolina has shown some weakness in kickoff coverage. Clemson's been strong in coverage in both phases.

So we'll give the Tigers the edge.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 33 South Carolina 30

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