Previewing South Carolina

In this 11 part series I will break down and predict each Clemson football game for the 2004 season. Of course, much can and will change as fall practice commences and the season progresses.

So by no means do I envision a scenario where I am perfect, but the hope is to give a realistic view of where Clemson, and the rest of the ACC, will fall in the upcoming season.

Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Week #2: Previewing Georgia Tech
Week #3: Previewing Texas A&M
Week #4: Previewing Florida State
Week #5: Previewing Virginia
Week #6: Previewing Utah State
Week #7: Previewing Maryland
Week #8: Previewing N.C. State
Week #9: Previewing Miami
Week #10: Previewing Duke

November 20th
South Carolina at Clemson

Clemson concludes the 2004 regular season in Death Valley against arch-rival South Carolina in one of the most heated rivalries in all of college football.

This will be the 11th game of the year for the Tigers, who are 8-2 overall and 6-2 in the final ACC standings.

I predict that South Carolina will enter the game in the exact same position as they were in the previous two years. The Gamecocks will be 5-5 on the season and they will need a win versus Clemson to become bowl eligible. The Gamecocks will have wins over Vanderbilt, South Florida, Troy State, Mississippi, and Arkansas with losses to Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida.

Lou Holtz is 27-32 in five years at South Carolina, something significantly lower than he promised when he took the job in 1999. The Gamecocks are coming off a 5-7 year in 2003 with wins over Louisiana-Lafayette, Virginia, Alabama Birmingham, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.

On offense, South Carolina returns 8 starters from last year's team that averaged 355.1 yards a game (8th in the SEC and 75th in the nation).

Much of the disdain emanating from Columbia is directed squarely at quarterback Dondrial Pinkins. The 6-foot-2, 245 pound senior threw for a modest 2,100 yards last year with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions during an up and down junior campaign.

To Pinkins' credit, he has not been given much of a chance to succeed. To start with, the Gamecock receivers averaged almost 3 drops a game in 2003 to go along with multiple botched routes during the season (not to mention the questionable play calling). The Gamecock offensive staff seemed hell-bent to run the ball with their running backs and/or Pinkins on first and 2nd down last year, setting up an almost impossible task for Pinkins in passing situations. The predictability of the offense gave Dondrial as little help as possible, and one wonders if the same is in store in 2004.

Yes, there was a buzz in the spring with Syvelle Newton seemingly stealing the spotlight. The 6-foot-2 sophomore has tremendous physical abilities, no doubt. But his numbers in the spring game were against 2nd and 3rd stringers and nobody truly knows what this kid can do under the lights. The backup quarterback is always the best player on the team, and Newton has already been anointed the savior. Problem is, nobody (USC staff included) really knows if Newton is a true quarterback. Excuse me if I have my doubts. I would suspect Pinkins will start the early part of the season and if the season goes really bad, Newton will end up getting more snaps towards the end of the year. But if South Carolina's season stays respectable, which I think it will, Pinkins will be under center in November.

What we do know for sure is that the Gamecocks are loaded at running back.

The best of that group, at least statistically, is junior Daccus Turman, who appears to be settling into a role at fullback. Turman churned out 646 yards in 2003 despite splitting time with other running backs.

Of course, South Carolina fans from near and far foam at the mouth over sophomore Demetris Summers, who also ran for over 600 yards last year. Summers does have big play ability to compliment his bruising running style, but he's been somewhat of a basket case since arriving in Columbia. He had been coddled off the field in his first year in Columbia, and the babying caught up with Summers in the summer when he failed to go to class. To Holtz's credit, he laid the law down on Demetris and it will interesting to see how well he handled the criticism. A sometimes forgotten man in Columbia is sophomore Cory Boyd who has looked impressive all spring and fall. Boyd, if given 20 carries a game, would be the best of the group.

Simply put, the Gamecocks will be in good shape at running back with any one of these three players. This is the one area where depth is most certainly not a problem in Columbia. The problem will be giving enough carries to all the backs to allow them to develop a rhythm. Look for Turman to play some fullback to help ease that burden.

The Gamecocks are not as deep at wide receiver as they are at running back, but the starters are a solid group stuck in an awful system. After dazzling in Athens as a freshman, senior Matthew Thomas has proceeded to lollygag through the rest of his Gamecock career. Thomas did catch 24 balls last year for 442 yards, but this production is well below what you would have thought Thomas was capable of if you watched him his freshman year. While Thomas will make some nice plays for the Gamecocks, he can't be counted on in the role of the go to guy. Like Thomas, junior Troy Williamson has had his moments. As a freshman, he caught two long passes (one for a touchdown) in a 27-20 loss to Clemson in Death Valley. Williamson then slipped into the same funk that Thomas has, waltzing through his sophomore year without spectacular numbers. To his credit, Williamson did lead the team in receptions with 31, but he may be the only receiver in the SEC that led the team in receptions with such a low number. Another emerging player trying to avoid the receiving funk in Columbia is sophomore Noah Whiteside. Whiteside is the fastest among the Gamecock receivers, and it will be interesting to see his development in his 2nd season and whether he can improve (something Thomas and Williamson have not been able to do).

If Newton isn't taking snaps under center, he could also be thrown in to the mix at receiver. I don't expect that to happen, at least not ealry on, as Newton has been adamant about playing quarterback.

New receiver coach Rick Stockstill could also be an X factor for the Gamecocks. Stockstill's receivers at Clemson were never great at catching the ball, but they did learn how to run precise routes which is something that was not emphasized in the past in Columbia. Whether South Carolina will throw the ball enough to matter remains to be seen, but the potential at wide out is fairly high.

Demetris Summers is talented, but he may not be able to beat out Cory Boyd at running back.
For the first time since 2000, the Gamecocks are precariously thin at offensive line. The tackles, however, are a talented bunch. Jabari Levey and Na'Shan Goodard would start most places in the SEC at tackle and they give the Gamecocks plenty of size in the exterior line positions. John Strickland is solid at center, but the guard position is less solidified with Chris White and Jonathan Alston on the other side.

Beyond those guys, who knows what the Gamecocks are going to do on the offensive line. Woodly Telfort, Kris Mick and Fran Pearson will somehow fit into the mix, and don't be surprised if some of the true freshman to be playing by November. Brian Brownlee is a decent player at tight end in terms of blocking, but he is not much of a threat catching the ball. The wear and tear of the SEC will play a major role in the Gamecocks fate because they simply can't have injuries on the offensive front.

On defense, South Carolina returns 8 players from a defense that gave up 368.2 yards a game last year (8th in the SEC, 53rd in the nation). On the defensive line, the strength will most certainly lie at both ends with Moe Thompson and a healthy George Gause. Both Gause and Thompson are All-SEC type players and should give new defensive coordinator Rick Minter plenty of options. The interior line, while not as talented as the end position, does have some quality players in Darrell Shropshire, Freddy Saint-Preux, and Charles Silas. True freshman Marque Hall is also making waves this August and could be a major factor for the Gamecocks by November. The defensive line is just as good or better as last year, which is good news for the Gamecocks. Add to the fact that Gause appears healthy and you have a defensive line that will be a strength for the Gamecocks.

At linebacker, Marcus Lawrence and Lance Laury are solidified in two of the spots for the Gamecocks and both are quick and can lay a hit. In theory, Ricardo Hurley should be thought of in the same light as Laury and Lawrence, but Hurley has underachieved to a large degree in Columbia. Whether that was bad coaching, a bad system, or bad play by Hurley is a question that I cannot answer without simply guessing. James Scott, Orus Lambert, and Rodriquez Wilson offer decent depth, although none are close to the type of players that the first stringers are.

The secondary has to be rebuilt, and that could be a good or bad thing. The Gamecocks were putrid in passing defense last year, but the Gamecocks had three NFL draft picks in the lineup in Dunta Robinson, Deandre' Eiland, and Teddy Crawford. What went wrong is the subject of much conjecture in Columbia, but the fact remains that the Gamecocks, at least on paper, are worse in 2004 in the secondary. Both safeties return in Jermaine Harris and Jamacia Jackson. Both, however, looked lost at times in 2003 and their physical talent is still a huge question mark. South Carolina will break in two new corners in Fred Bennett and Jonathan Joseph. Taqiy Muhammad and Tremaine Tyler will also battle for playing time at the corner position. But the fact remains that none of those 4 are traditional shut down corners, a trademark of the Charlie Strong defenses of 2000 and 2001. If the Gamecocks improve their secondary play in 2004 it will be a surprise to me. But I just don't see the talent back there to make me believe this unit is any better than 10th in the SEC.

On special teams, Josh Brown returns as the punter and Joey Bowers will handle the placekicking duties. Both are solid kickers that should not give the Gamecock faithful too many headaches in 2004.

Summary And Prediction
There is little doubt that the 2003 Clemson/South Carolina game was a watershed moment for both programs. Lou Holtz has spent just about every press conference talking about his embarrassment with the loss, and the Gamecocks will no doubt have payback on their mind in this late November match up.

The Gamecocks' fate in 2004 once again rests in the hands of quarterback Dondrial Pinkins.
The Gamecocks will also be in the same position that they have been in for the past 2 years…needing to beat Clemson to secure a bowl bid. Unfortunately for Gamecock fans, South Carolina winning in Clemson is a rare feat, happening only 4 times since 1980 (1984, 1992, 1994, 1996).

How Lou Holtz, who receives more than $10,000 to give motivational speeches to corporate big wigs, cannot inspire enough emotion in his Gamecock players to achieve greatness against Clemson is beyond me. South Carolina looked completely flat last year, almost from the first play from scrimmage. And when backed up against the wall, the Gamecocks players just quit. I saw it, you saw it, and the rest of the nation saw it last year.

How much, if anything, has changed since last November is still anybody's guess.

We have been witness to a major turnaround in Clemson, so it would be foolish for us to think it cannot happen in Columbia. And to be honest, the SEC is a watered down version of its big bad self this year. It is not impossible for the Gamecocks to be no better than last year and still have a better record heading into the Clemson game.

Last preseason, I picked the Gamecocks to beat Clemson on the basis that the game was in Columbia and I just felt Lou was due to get his second win against the Tigers. While I did change that pick in my weekly prediction before the game last year, I will not allow myself to be duped any more by the wit of Sir Holtz. I, like many Gamecock faithful, have begun to really see through the rhetoric of Holtz. This is most certainly his defining year, and we will learn whether or not he lives up to the reputation that has enveloped his caricature since his days at Notre Dame.

But picking big successes for South Carolina, especially against Clemson, is hard to do this year. While Clemson was clearly not 46 points better than the Gamecocks last year, the fact remains that Clemson was better. Better in almost every phase of the game, including coaching. And 365 days is not going to change those realities.

Clemson takes the season ending rivalry, and Lou Holtz coaches his last game in Columbia.

Rhymer's Prediction
Clemson 27 South Carolina 10

Later this week I will post my final ACC Standings and Preseason Bowl Projections for all ACC teams. Where will the Tigers go bowling and who will be the opponent? Stay tuned.

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