5 Keys to Beating Carolina

The 6-5 Clemson Tigers play host to arch rival South Carolina (5-6) Saturday night before a sold out Death Valley and a national television audience. While neither team has fulfilled the expectations of the 2002 season, this game lines up as one of the most important in the recent history of these two programs.

Clemson, after falling short time and time again against quality opponents in the 2002 season, needs to win Saturday to pacify a restless fan base that is questioning the direction of the program.

South Carolina needs a win to earn a third straight bowl appearance. More importantly, Lou Holtz is trying to even his head to head match up with Tommy Bowden. In addition, the Gamecocks are trying to win back-to-back games against Clemson for the first time in 31 years.

Langston Moore Vs. Tommy Sharpe
To say nose guard Langston Moore is a special player is a slight understatement. Moore, who has registered 9 ½ tackles for a loss this year and 3 sacks, is the physical and inspirational senior leader of the Gamecock defense. Simply put, he has been a mainstay in the backfield of every opponent the Gamecocks have faced this year, and to expect to keep him off of Charlie Whitehurst is nothing more than dummy faith.

Adding to Moore's advantage is the fact that he will be lining up across a player that he can physically dominate. Tommy Sharpe (5-11, 253), while greatly undersized is starting at center for Clemson because he is the best center the Tigers have on their team. To Sharpe's credit, he is similar to Moore in that he is a fiery competitor that will play hard on every down whether he is dominating his opponent or getting dominated himself.

How well Langston Moore is able to take advantage of his physical mismatch with Sharpe just might be the most compelling match up of this football game.

Gamecock Secondary Beware
If the Langston Moore vs. Tommy Sharpe match-up is considered the biggest mismatch of the game, the Clemson receivers versus the Gamecock secondary is a close second. Rashad Faison is an exceptional player, but beyond him the Gamecocks have struggled mightly in the secondary this season. Opponents are averaging a modest 178 yards through the air, but Carolina's defensive backfield has given up 17 passing touchdowns on the year. In addition, teams seem to consistently find a way to pick up key first downs on 3rd down and long when the game is on the line.

To compound the problems in the secondary, the Carolina coaching staff has been unable to settle on the weak side corner position. The Gamecocks have started more players at corner this year than there are rail cars in Columbia. The reason? Simple- they just aren't getting the production out of the people in the game to allow the job to become permanent.

Another huge question mark for the Gamecocks in the secondary will be the play of former quarterback Corey Jenkins. While Jenkins did nothing to embarrass himself against Florida in his first start at safety, he will see more multiple wide receiver sets this week versus Clemson. For all the hoopla surrounding Florida's passing game, it is primarily a two and three wide receiver system. Clemson will put four and five receivers into the Gamecock secondary, forcing Jenkins to play more pass coverage.

South Carolina fans swear Jenkins can lay the wood…but can he cover anybody? We'll find out Saturday night.

Buying Time
If there is one common denominator when the Clemson offense struggles, it is that the offensive line does not give the quarterback enough time to throw the football. In Clemson's last two losses against N.C. State and Maryland, the quarterbacks for the Tigers simply had no chance to succeed in the passing game.

Much of that onus goes to the offensive line for Clemson. The bruised and battered bunch that makes up this patchwork unit has struggled against teams with talented and physical defensive lineman and linebackers. Guess what…the Gamecocks are physical and talented at defensive line and linebacker.

While the offensive line must play better than it did against N.C. State and Maryland, the Clemson offensive coaches must dig deep to find innovative ways to alleviate the pressure on the quarterback. Whether that will be quick slants, screen passes, throws to the tight end, or trick plays…the coaches cannot put the offensive line in a position that it cannot win.

If the Gamecocks get to the point where they can pin back their ears, the Tigers will suffer a similar fate to last week on the offensive side of the ball. This may be the biggest challenge facing Brad Scott and Mike O'Cain as they prepare a game plan this week.

Long Field
Don't fool yourself, the Gamecock offense is bad. There are very few wide receivers that jump off the page and scare you, the running backs are average at best, and the quarterback play in Columbia has been downright brutal at times. The South Carolina offense looks very similar to a dismal North Carolina team the Tigers faced just two weeks ago in Chapel Hill, but of course, you can expect more of an all-out 4 quarter effort when playing your archrival on national television.

The one thing that Clemson did against North Carolina that caused them fits was make the Heels go the length of the field. Sure, there are a few different ways to force a team to go 70+ yards for their scores each time. Avoiding turnovers is one, getting first downs on offense is another, and punting the ball with good coverage is the third way.

If Clemson can be successful in those three areas Saturday, the Gamecocks will have to go the length of the field on most possessions.

And if that turns out to be the case, Carolina simply won't be successful on offense Saturday evening.

Asking the Gamecock offense to go 70 yards for a touchdown once a game is like getting lucky on a first date. Sure, it happens sometimes, but you really never know when or with whom.

Asking the Gamecock offense to score 2 or 3 touchdowns from 70+ yards is like asking for a refund on a losing lottery ticket. It just ain't gonna happen.

I'll Drink To That Brew-Er
Hating the University of South Carolina football team is very easy for me to do. Admiring the way Ryan Brewer plays the game of football for the Gamecocks is even easier.

Ryan Brewer is the epitome of college football. In actuality, he has about as much physical talent as this moth that is flying around my keyboard right now. What he lacks in talent, however, he more than makes up in intelligence and hard work.

Brewer is banged up, and it is a shame for the Gamecock Nation. I wonder if a healthy Brewer would have made the difference in the three game losing streak the Gamecocks are mired in. Brewer being banged up may be the biggest stroke of luck on the Clemson side of the ball, however.

Even hobbled, Brewer is dependable enough to catch punts (a major problem for the Gamecocks) and make catches that move the chains. I doubt you will see the little dynamo streaking 80 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, but the little intangibles that he brings to the game Saturday is enough to give the Gamecock offense hope.

It will be Clemson's job to make sure that Brewer does not make enough plays to keep the Gamecocks close. When he returns a punt or catches a pass, the Tigers must make him pay by hitting him hard. But, most importantly, Clemson cannot allow Dondrial Pinkens to get comfortable throwing the ball to Brewer in clutch situations. Because if he can find Brewer when he needs a big play, Brewer will make the catch and move the chains. You can take that to the bank.

Rhymer's Prediction
With all key match ups placed aside, this is a game that Clemson should win. Clemson is better on offense than the Gamecocks. Clemson is similar, if not equal, to the Gamecocks on defense. Clemson is better on special teams (the Gamecocks can't make a field goal to save their lives). And, Clemson is playing at home against an inexperienced quarterback.

However, the Gamecocks usually fill the underdog role versus the Tigers pretty well. Back in 1999, an 0-10 Gamecock team came within one great 4th down catch by Rod Gardner to salvaging one win in that season. Over the history of this series, I would guess the Gamecocks have been the underdog more than 80% of the time, but they have been able to win almost 40% of the games between the two teams.

In addition, I think Clemson is in an odd state of emotions right now having played so well against Duke and North Carolina only to have fallen hard to Maryland. South Carolina's players are well versed in playing poorly as they have had almost a month to wade through the emotions of being a team possibly out of bowl contention.

This game will be higher scoring than expected because of emotion and the fact that the teams will pull out all of the tricks. Clemson could win big, but I don't think they will. The Gamecocks and the Tigers will battle Saturday well into the 4th quarter, with Clemson regaining bragging rights.

Clemson-24 South Carolina-21

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