Grading the Big Win

All the planets and stars have realigned to their normal spheres as Clemson defeated South Carolina 27-20 Saturday night in Death Valley. The Tigers punched South Carolina in the nose and like a scared puppy the Gamecocks tucked their tails and ran.

The win by the Tigers gave Clemson its 60th win in the 100th game between the two bitter rivals. In addition, the Tigers assured themselves of a mid-tier bowl game to be announced next week, as well as eliminating the Gamecocks from bowl consideration.

Tommy Bowden, much maligned by Gamecock and Tiger fans, captured his 3rd win in 4 tries versus the "legend" Lou Holtz.

I picked a 24-21 Clemson win that was eerily similar to the final score. For the year, I was 10-2 in picking the Tigers with losses only to Virginia and N.C. State.

Langston Moore Vs. Tommy Sharpe
If you had to give one game ball out for the game, it would unquestionably go to Tommy Sharpe. The 250 pound Mini Me's matchup with Langston Moore kept me awake Friday night before the game. Moore, in addition to being the inspirational leader of the Gamecock defense, also happened to be much more talented physically than Sharpe.

On Saturday night, Moore turned into the invisible man. He unofficially had 4 tackles in the game and he also unofficially did not have any sacks credited to him at press time. Officially and on the record…Sharpe whipped his butt.

It is a fair assessment that without Sharpe playing so well against such high odds the Tigers may not be sitting here today with a win over the Gamecocks. To say Langston Moore will remember his whippin' for many years to come is an understatement. To say Tommy Sharpe has earned the respect of everybody in Tiger Nation is stating the obvious.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Gamecock Secondary Beware
South Carolina did not do what I thought they would do, that is for sure. For starters, Corey Jenkins moved to Spur safety (a glorified name for linebacker) and Rashad Faison moved to Jenkin's safety position. And the Gamecocks blitzed a lot more than I thought they would, which was the right thing to do against Clemson in my opinion.

The teams that have had the most success against Clemson have blitzed the Tigers and forced the quarterback to make quick decisions with defenders in his face. Granted, this is a risky proposition because it creates man-to-man situations in the secondary. Charlie Strong thought his secondary was up to the challenge like N.C. State's and Maryland's. He was wrong.

The Gamecock secondary all year has been suspect. And while the secondary never made poor reads or missed assignments, they could not match the talent of the Clemson receivers. Even Jackie Robinson, the senior that rarely touches the ball because of all the talent at wide receiver at Clemson, made big plays Saturday night.

To say South Carolina misses Sheldon Brown and Andre Goodman is an understatement. The 2002 Gamecock secondary was reminiscent of the 2001 Clemson secondary. They simply could not make plays. And, we all now know that Corey Jenkins is not the savior at safety (just like at quarterback) that the Gamecocks had envisioned.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Buying Time
Charlie Whitehurst did not exactly have all day to throw, but he had enough. The Tiger offensive line, much like it did against Duke and North Carolina, bought Charlie just enough time to allow him to make reads against the secondary. Whitehurst once again showed his ability to look off several receivers and throw accurate passes to the wide outs that were open.

And the offensive line did all of this with the Gamecocks desperately blitzing to try and rattle Charlie. While Maryland was able to get pressure on Whitehurst by rushing 3 or 4 defenders, the Gamecocks had to blitz. Most of those blitzes were picked up without missed assignments, allowing Whitehurst just enough time to throw.

The result was a collage of passes…some short dump offs just to allude the rush, some deep throws over the middle on crucial third down plays. Whenever Clemson needed the line to keep the Gamecocks off of Whitehurst, the line produced. The vaunted Gamecock defensive line was rendered tame most of Saturday night. Credit the Clemson offensive line for controlling the line of scrimmage for 60 minutes…something that has happened only rarely this year.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Long Field
With one glaring exception, Clemson forced the Gamecocks to go the length of the field on their drives. The exception was the Kevin Youngblood fumble inside the Clemson 30 yard line after Jenkins laid the wood on him. Brian Mance atoned for the fumble by intercepting Dondrial Pinkens in the end zone.

There are three keys to making teams have a long field on their processions. The first is not turn the ball over. Other than the Youngblood fumble that was negated by the Mance interception, the Tigers had no turnovers that gave the Gamecocks great field position.

The second key is to get first downs on offense. Simply using my memory and not the play sheet, I don't think the Tigers had any series in the game that resulted in a three and out. The Tigers crushed out an amazing 27 first downs in the game, the most productive game of the year in that respect. By amassing all those first downs, the Tigers, in essence, flipped the field in their favor.

And the final key to creating long fields for your opponents is good punting and punt coverage. Wynn Kopp only punted twice, and his average was 38 yards a kick. But, more importantly, USC had a net 0 yards in returns on punts.

The Gamecocks were forced to go a long way on all of their drives and they proved they could not consistently do that Saturday night. This area had as much to do with Clemson winning Saturday night as any area in the game.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

I'll Drink To That Brew-Er
Ryan Brewer was banged up, and it showed. Brewer only had one catch for 11 yards in the game. Brewer did have over 100 yards in kickoff returns…but no one return that broke the 50 yard line.

I'm sure most Gamecock fans would wonder what the season, and this game, would have been like with a healthy Ryan Brewer. I have some news for them…get used to it. The banged up Brewer has played his last snap for the Gamecocks.

The senior that has been the heart and soul of the Gamecock offense has been rendered a mere sideshow because of ankle problems. I would like to think Clemson had a lot to do with shutting down Brewer, but I imagine most of that fell on Brewer's bum ankles.

Whatever the case, a major cog of the Gamecock offense was silent Saturday night, and Clemson came away a winner because of it.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

We await our bowl fate in the coming week. The meantime will provide for a lot of satisfaction as Clemson fans can breath easy for the next 365 days.

It is hard to quantify the direction of these two programs based on this one game. One thing I do know for sure, South Carolina is losing more players that played major roles in the game Saturday than Clemson is. Does that mean Clemson is on the rise and the Gamecocks are falling? Maybe.

The coming weeks will allow for reflections on the season, so I shall not waste time doing that now. But, there is no question that this win over the Gamecocks will make the pains of this season stuck in neutral easier to deal with. Standing on Frank Howard Field while I watched the goal post come down Saturday night I knew one thing.

The planets and stars had once again aligned. Clemson had beaten South Carolina. All was good in the world.

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