Previewing The Big Game

Sometimes you wonder why people write the things that they do. You have to read it to believe it, but Scott Rhymer sure does have his opinions about this year's South Carolina - Clemson game. Scott gives us his prediction on the final game of the 2003 regular season in this extensive preview.

Forget about forking over $7 for all the preseason magazines devoted to conferences and Top 25 pre-season teams. The only pre-season magazine you need to read is right here online.

For the next few weeks I will preview each match up the Tigers have this Fall in the order in which the games will be played. The articles will feature items such as key returning players, opponents Strengths, opponents weaknesses, intangibles, an unofficial spread, and of course a prediction.

Game 1: Georgia Preview
Game 2: Furman Preview
Game 3: Middle Tennessee State Preview
Game 4: Georgia Tech Preview
Game 5: Maryland Preview
Game 6: Virginia Preview
Game 7: North Carolina State Preview
Game 8: North Carolina Preview
Game 9: Wake Forest Preview
Game 10: Florida State Preview
Game 11: Duke Preview

So save your precious money and stick to for previews you can use.

The Breakdown
Clemson at South Carolina
November 22, 2003

The greatest rivalry in all of college football takes place in Columbia this November. Yes, of course I am biased. It is probably not the greatest rivalry in college football, but as far as you and I are concerned, there is nothing that means more.

Clemson versus South Carolina, with a year's worth of bragging rights at stake. To us, it is the greatest rivalry in college football. At the very least, it is hard to find two schools anywhere that loathe each other more than our two fine institutions do.

The South Carolina Gamecocks are coming off a 5-7 season that culminated in a 5 game losing streak to close out the year. A season of high expectations in Columbia (well, really every season is a season of high expectations in Columbia) was originally fumbled away at Virginia and versus Georgia before collapsing on top of itself with consecutive losses to LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson. The best win of the 2002 season for South Carolina would have to be the 16-12 win at Kentucky, unless you want to count the Outback Bowl win over Ohio State on January 1st, 2002. Beating only New Mexico State, Temple, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Kentucky does not offer many highlights to the season, but I would imagine the low point of the season came against Clemson.

The Tigers defeated USC in 2002 by a score of 27-20 in a game that saw Clemson chew up the last 6 minutes of the game on the ground to seal the win. It must have been excruciating sitting in Death Valley wearing garnet that night. The Gamecock faithful had to watch a below average offensive line that couldn't even keep Duke out of the backfield, manhandle a South Carolina defense that ultimately underachieved as much as any defense has at South Carolina in a long, long time.

Lou Holtz is 22-25 in 4 years in Columbia with a 1-3 record versus Clemson. Of course, we all know that the 0-11 season under Holtz was not his fault, so I'm not sure if I should take eleven of those losses off the record. And we also know that Mike Washington ripped the Gamecocks for a win 3 years ago in Clemson, so really Holtz's record versus Clemson is 2-2. Ok, let us snap back to reality, shall we?

In the off-season, defensive coordinator Charlie Strong jumped Holtz's ship to take the same position at Florida. Chris Cosh steps into the role in 2003, and he plans on dumping Strong's 3-3-5 scheme at the same time. Probably not a bad idea considering last year.

This will be the 12th overall game for the Gamecocks in the 2003 season. South Carolina opens the season with Louisiana Lafayette in Week 1 and then host Virginia in Week 2. The Gamecocks then hit the road for a battle with Georgia in Athens before returning home to host Alabama Birmingham. The Tennessee game moves from late in the year to Week 5 in Knoxville. October sees the Gamecocks returning home for a three game home stand versus Kentucky, LSU, and Vanderbilt. To start November, the Gamecocks travel to Ole Miss and Arkansas before returning home to host Florida the week before the Clemson game.

QB Dondrial Pinkins returns this year with high expecations. It was Pinkins who hit Troy Williamson for a 70-yard touchdown pass last season in the 27-20 loss to Clemson.
Key Returning Players For The Gamecocks
On offense, the Gamecocks return only 4 players that started games in 2002. At quarterback, junior Dondrial Pinkins returns after taking over the job from Corey Jenkins at the close of the 2002 season. Troy Williamson is back at wide receiver after having a stellar freshman campaign in Columbia. On the offensive line, the Gamecocks only return 1 starter in senior Travelle Wharton. Tight end Hart Turner also returns.

On defense, the Gamecocks return 4 starters from a unit that gave up a lot of 3rd down conversions in 2002. Both defensive ends return in super sophomore Moe Thompson and junior George Gause. In the secondary, the Gamecocks return senior cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Deandre' Eiland.

Place kicker Daniel Weaver returns, although the Gamecocks will be looking for a punter in August.

South Carolina Strengths
The fact that South Carolina only returns 1 player on the offensive line makes red flags go up in my mind. This will be an issue in South Carolina's early games versus Georgia and Virginia, but by the 12th game of the season the Gamecocks will be reaping what they have sowed the past 3 years in recruiting solid offensive linemen. Sophomore Jabari Levey and junior Jonathan Alston will anchor the offensive line at the guard position. The Gamecocks are even better at tackle, where Na'shan Goddard plays opposite Wharton. John Strickland holds up the middle at center, giving the Gamecocks a very good starting five. Expect South Carolina to once again lean on their offensive line to control the line of scrimmage and allow the offense to chew up the time of possession clock.

Under Cosh's more traditional 4-3 scheme, expect Gause and Thompson to have big years. Gause was lost at times in Strong's 3-3-5 schemes and his quickness as an up field pass rusher was nullified. He'll be able to pin his ears back this year, and he could be a star in the making in the SEC. Thompson had a spectacular freshman year, and while his height is a little small (6-3) for a rush end, he showed last year he was a playmaker when he got his chances.

South Carolina also appears to be solid at the cornerback position. The defensive coaches raved all spring about Dunta Robinson, and he is expected to have an All-SEC type year. Eiland has also received raves by the coaches at the other cornerback position, giving the Gamecocks two lock down corners on both sides of the field. While neither of these corners has the overall athleticism of Justin Miller, the fact that both are seniors and talented gives the Gamecocks a lot of options with their safeties on defense.

South Carolina Weaknesses
Dondrial Pinkins remains a bit of a mystery. Of course, Skip Holtz praised Pinkins all spring long, but what else is the younger Holtz going to do and say about the obvious quarterback choice? Holtz most certainly did not want to bruise his confidence before the start of August drills. In Pinkins' defense, he did do a nice job taking over for Corey Jenkins last year. Based on what has been seen out of Pinkins, he looks like he could be an average quarterback in the right system. However, Pinkins lacks a real identity. He is too big (245 lbs.) to be a serious threat to run the ball. Sure, he can barrel for a couple of yards in a scrambling situation, but it is not as if he is a duel threat quarterback at that playing weight. Nobody questions his throwing arm, but can he read defenses?

Jenkins could throw the ball out of the stadium, but he could not see his receivers in time to throw them the ball, choosing to run sooner than he needed to. Will Pinkins be better? Time will tell, but I don't think Dondrial is a guy the Gamecocks can ride for 8+ wins. Problem is…they don't have anybody on the bench that they can ride if he does not pan out. JUCO transfer Michael Rathe is a Phil Petty clone minus the years of experience in the system, so don't expect much from him. And highly prized recruit Syvelle Newton is nowhere near ready to step in and take snaps at quarterback this year. So, Pinkins it will be…for better or worse.

Compounding Pinkins' problems at quarterback is the fact that he has a limited arsenal at his disposal at wide receiver. Troy Williamson is a very good player, and assuming he does not have a sophomore slump ala Matthew Thomas, he is a definite go-to guy for the Gamecocks. Speaking of Thomas, his status remains in limbo with Lou entering August drills, but most Gamecock insiders are skeptical that he would start even if reinstated. Thomas developed a serious case of butterfingers to go along with lazy route running, something that cannot put him good standing with the perfectionist Holtz.

Taqiy Muhammad moved from the defensive side of the ball to have a solid spring, but his 5'-11" 180 pound frame is a little on the small side. USC coaches still think he is a solid #2 receiver and Muhammad will be counted on in big measure in 2003. The other wide receivers are unremarkable at best. Mikal Goodman has a nice WR frame and JUCO Chavez Donnings will see plenty of action as well. The bottom line at receiver for the Gamecocks: Expect plenty of double teams on Williamson until somebody else proves they can get open and catch the ball on a consistent basis.

The running back position is also muddled, even with the reinstatement of Daccus Turman. Turman, along with Kenny Irons, appears to be in a battle to see if either can hold off true freshman Demetris Summers once August rolls around. Neither Turman nor Irons are playmakers with breakaway speed, but both showed they could be dependable last year. Expect Summers to get plenty of attention in August drills.

The Gamecock faithful swear Summers is the next Maurice Clarrett, and he could well be. But the same people that are hyping Summers are the same that said Corey Jenkins and Andrew Pinnock would be Heisman Finalists. The truth is that nobody, including the USC coaches, really know how Summers will react to college competition or if his body can withstand the typical freshman bumps and bruises. And, even if Summers wins the job, can the Gamecocks ride a true freshman to 8+ wins without a consistent passing game? Probably not, but the upside of Summers is so much greater than anything Turman or Irons bring to the table, so expect to see Summers carrying the ball in November versus Clemson. With an offense that lacks playmakers minus Williamson, keeping Summers off the field would not be the smartest move in the world.

Carolina will most likely enter the Clemson game looking to finish .500 for the year, at best. The schedule is unkind once again for the Gamecocks, who will be favorites in only 4 or 5 games heading into the Clemson game. The Gamecocks figure to have 4 definite wins under their belt in La. Lafayette, UAB, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. South Carolina's two best chances for wins beyond those four are road games against Ole Miss and Arkansas. A split of those games leaves the Gamecocks 5-6 heading into the match up with Clemson. If the Gamecocks can pull more than one upset and enter the Clemson game 6-5, they will be playing the game with a bowl berth on the line.

Clemson most certainly has dominated the series with the Gamecocks. Even under the Holtz/Bowden era, Clemson has been able to win 3 of the 4 games. You can point to statistics all day long as to why Clemson is going to win this game, so I won't even waste the space doing so. Statistics are for losers anyway, even if the statistics fall in your favor.

Injuries for both teams will be a key to who wins the game because there is a long season ahead before these two teams strap it up. Neither team can afford injuries at key positions without taking a big hit. You can imagine how tough if would be on Clemson if they played USC without Charlie Whitehurst, Justin Miller, or Yusef Kelly. Turn that around and imagine playing USC without Pinkins, Williamson, or Eiland. Injuries could play a huge factor in determining the favorite for this game in November.

Although Tommy Bowden will be off the hot seat if the season progresses like I have predicted, the spotlight will still be on this game for Bowden. If Clemson is not 8-3 or better in this game, many will say that Bowden will need this game to avoid even more pressure put upon him. Regardless, Clemson fans expect to beat USC no matter what Clemson or USC's record is that particular year. Winning three out of four versus the Gamecocks will get you a pat on the back, but nobody is going to call you a savior by doing it.

And Lou Holtz, scratching for a .500 season in year 5 will most certainly need a win over Tommy Bowden and Clemson if he is to continue to be treated like a God in Columbia. The Gamecock faithful continue to provide blind admiration for the legendary coach, despite a poor coaching job last year that left the Gamecocks at home during bowl season. Another 5-7 season coupled with his 4th loss in 5 years to Tommy Bowden will not sit easily with Gamecock faithful, no matter how many jokes Holtz will tell on the Gamecock Club circuit. The folksy humor will wear off eventually if Holtz does not have winning seasons and if he does not beat Clemson. So, you can bet Coach Lou wants this Clemson game pretty badly, no matter how much he may downplay it during Rivalry Week.

Unofficial Spread
Clemson will be favored in the 2-5 point range entering this contest.

South Carolina downs the Tigers 17-14. Statistics aside, this game looks destined to be a South Carolina win. I can give you 1000 reasons why Clemson should win the game. I can't give you that many South Carolina reasons, but it will not matter. The Gamecocks will be at home and in desperate need of a win over Clemson to seal their season.

Defensively, the Gamecocks are good enough to slow Clemson down just enough for their anemic offense to get the points to win. I hate to predict a South Carolina victory, but as a prognosticator you have to go with your head, not your heart. Many times in this series, the best team does not win. Is Clemson a better team this year? In many ways, yes. But, the Tigers are not that much better and the Gamecocks may come in hungrier. I'll spend the next 4 months hoping I'm wrong, but the gut feeling is that South Carolina will win.

Clemson finishes the regular season at 8-4 and the Gamecocks finish 6-6. Clemson drops out of the Top 25 (falling from #23) as we wait to see which bowl the Tigers will head to.

My next article will be a complete ACC breakdown of final regular season predictions for each team including who will be going to what bowl game.
Scott Rhymer can be reached at Scott and publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays. Top Stories