Looking To THE Game

I could spend the first half of this article writing about what went wrong in College Park last week, but it would only be the same old stuff that has been wrong the whole year. However, the reality is that this is Clemson/Carolina week, and this article is going to be all about the big game.

First, let me answer some myths that surround this game before I give my "5 Things To Watch".

Is this the biggest game of the year?

Without question, this is the biggest game of the year for both schools. Clemson fans can point to Florida State as a big game. Carolina fans say beating Tennessee or Florida would be a season making accomplishment. Neither group of fans, however, would trade any of the above in place of beating their archrival. This is the biggest game of the year, and it sure would help heal some of the wounds of an otherwise frustrating season in both camps.

Is this a critical game for Clemson?

With the loss last week to Maryland, this game has become even more important than it would normally have been. The Tigers are in danger of falling to 5-5 with a loss to the Gamecocks, and even with a win the first week of December against Duke, the Tigers would be hard pressed to find many positives from the 2001 year.

Is this a critical game for USC?

Having lost 4 in a row to the Tigers, the Gamecocks have circled this game on their calendar for a long time. Throw in the fact that Lou Holtz has yet to defeat Tommy Bowden head to head adds fuel to the Gamecocks fire.

How important is this game in the recruiting war?

Hard to tell. But, the winner of this game certainly has a couple of extra bullets to fire if they can say they beat the other. In Clemson's case, telling a recruit that the last time USC beat Clemson was while they were in the 8th grade would make a pretty good impression.

Now, let's take a look at the game itself with my "5 Things To Watch" for the game this Saturday between the Gamecocks and the Tigers.

#1-Make The Gamecocks One Dimensional
Asking the Clemson defense to shut down any offense this year has proven to be futile. The Tiger defense has been at its best this year when teams have not been able to run AND pass at will. The defenses greatest moment came against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons had their way on the ground, but struggled to establish a consistent passing game. The Gamecocks have not had a very prolific offense this year, struggling at times to pass and at other times struggling to run the ball. If the Tiger defense can make the Gamecocks one dimensional, Clemson will have a chance to win the game Saturday.

#2-Win The Kicking Game
This game looks, on paper, to be a pretty evenly matched game. With that being said, the kicking game will become crucial. Neither team has been great in the kicking game, so the team that steps up in this area may end up winning the game. Aaron Hunt must make his kicks when given the opportunity, and Wynn Kopp needs to help Clemson maintain field position to make an average Gamecock offense have to go the length of the field to score.

#3-Fantastic Freshman
Derek Hamilton, Airese Currie, and Roscoe Crosby will get their first taste of rivalry football in a very hostile environment. All have shown that they are going to be big time players at Clemson before their days end, but the Gamecocks will try and use their inexperience against them. Expect the Gamecocks to play tight coverage with their talented cornerbacks Sheldon Brown and Andre Goodman, so the freshman will have to make them pay for the aggressiveness.

#4-First 5 Minutes Are Not The Game
The Tigers need to take a cue from the Florida Gators by not allowing the first few minutes of the game to fluster them. Expect the Gamecocks to jump out to an early lead behind the energetic crowd. The coaches need to stick to the game plan and show patience on offense if things don't go well early. It is a long game that is not won or lost in the first quarter.

#5-Use The Pressure Against The Gamecocks
It is possible that the lingering frustration of the past 100 years and the additional pressure of having lost 4 straight to the Tigers could work against the Gamecocks. Add to the fact that almost all Gamecock players, fans, and coaches thought they caught a raw deal with "The Catch" last year. All of these things could come crashing in on the Gamecocks if the Tigers can get a lead in the second half of the game. If the Tigers can grab a lead in the 3rd quarter, driving a nail through the Gamecocks heart may demoralize the home team and bring joy to Tiger Land. Self doubt can be a crucial thing to a college football team.

Now that you have my "5 Things To Watch", here are a few thoughts I will leave you with. This has not been the year most Clemson fans would have liked. Clemson is a young team that, at times, has been poorly coached. But, Saturday, there is an opportunity to not only help ease the pain of the season for the Tigers, but to frustrate the Gamecocks once again.

Every Clemson fan, supporter, band member, cheerleader, player and coach should relish the opportunity that lies ahead instead of moping on the what could have-beens of the year gone by. At about 4:00 Saturday, many of us will be overjoyed or tearful. Do your part, however little that may be, to help the overjoyed part win out.

By the way, here is my first public prediction of the year.

Clemson-24 South Carolina-21

Scott can be reached at weekendedition@cs.com.

Scott is the host of "The College Football Weekend Preview" on Thursday nights from 8-10 p.m. immediately falling Tiger Calls on WCCP 104.9 FM. The show can also be heard via the Internet at www.wccpfm.com.

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