South Carolina. Clemson. Two top 15 ranked teams looking to finish off strong wins with a win over their arch-rival. What more could you ask for?
This matchup between the Tigers and South Carolina hasn't really been a matchup the past three seasons. South Carolina has dominated this game dating back to 2009 when the current three-game when streak began. The Gamecocks have outscored Clemson 97-37 in the past three games with an average margin of victory over Clemson by 20 points.
It's been a complete domination for the Gamecocks in this rivalry lately but that's not always been the case. Clemson leads the series history 65-40-4 over South Carolina and has the edge over the Gamecocks in Columbia and in Clemson.
South Carolina has always had trouble with Clemson, but ever since Steve Spurrier arrived in Columbia, it's been a much different ballgame. Thanks to improved recruiting and coaching, South Carolina is 4-3 against the Tigers under head coach Steve Spurrier.
The Gamecocks have struggled in big road environments this year losing twice to two top 10 ranked opponents in Florida and LSU. Clemson's Memorial Stadium will be rocking Saturday night for their first night home game since the 2010 South Carolina/Clemson game.
Will the Gamecocks get over their road struggles this weekend? Can they keep the win streak alive against the Tigers? Will it be another dominating performance like the past three matchups?
With that in mind, let's take a look at this week's What To Watch For edition.
The performance of South Carolina's starting quarterback Connor ShawSouth Carolina's quarterback has had himself an interesting season. It started with the struggles on the road at Vanderbilt, in large part due to an injured shoulder, and that injury forced him out against East Carolina. He tried to play against UAB but was ineffective. However, he was on a roll against Missouri with 20 straight completions. A solid performance against UGA was followed by two rough performances on the road. He then torched Tennessee and Arkansas at home before struggling against Wofford.
It's hard to figure out what you'll see next from Connor Shaw. This weekend's game affords the Gamecocks quarterback a chance to move the ball through the air. Clemson gives up, on average, 244.9 yards per game passing. Last week alone, Clemson gave up 493 yards passing. Granted, NC State's Mike Glennon is likely a better passing quarterback than Shaw but it's something to be noted.
The junior quarterback for the Gamecocks is battling a foot injury. He suffered it against Tennessee and it's continued to give him issues since that game. He has yet to practice this week so he may not have the quality practice reps to get him prepared for this weekend's game.
Regardless, Shaw is a gamer. He'll give you the full effort you'd want out of your quarterback. South Carolina needs Shaw on the field with his leadership and mobility to help the Gamecocks come home with a win. In last years game, Shaw threw for 210 yards and rushed for 107.
He's a big key for the Gamecocks this weekend and his performance will likely dictate whether South Carolina beats Clemson for the fourth straight time.
What South Carolina can do to slow down the Clemson offenseClemson's offense has been unreal at times this season. They've scored 37 points in every game this season except against Auburn in the season-opener. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has led the way with 41 total touchdowns. He's thrown for 3,367 yards through the air and has rushed for 466 yards. Running back Andre Ellington is just under 1,000 yards this season and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has 68 receptions for 1,171 yards and 15 touchdowns.
South Carolina's defense has their hands full. The Gamecocks need to control the big play from Clemson. Clemson has the weapons to score in the hurry but South Carolina does have some athletic, quick players that should be able to hang with the Tigers. The defense can't allow a receiver to get deep on the Gamecocks or could spell doom for South Carolina. The defensive line, with Jadeveon Clowney, could help by bringing enough pressure on Tajh Boyd to allow the Gamecocks to stay away from blitzing on Saturday. The more men in coverage, the better for the Gamecocks defense.
The defense could also be helped by its offensive counterparts. Some nice, long sustained drives on offense limit the opportunities for Clemson's big-play offense to take the field. The Tigers can score in a hurry, but they can't do it if they don't have the ball.
South Carolina played a similar offense in check last year. The Tigers look better and potential have more weapons and experience. Can the Gamecocks do it again? This will be one of the best defenses Clemson has faced all year. If the Gamecocks can hold strong and find a way to confuse and frustrate the Clemson offense, they've got a great shot at limiting to the Tigers on Saturday.
The attitude of the Gamecocks in a tough road environmentIt's been a clear stark contrast between South Carolina on the road and South Carolina at Williams-Brice. Look at the performances against Vanderbilt, Kentucky, LSU and Florida. All struggles for the Gamecocks. There were turnovers, poor play and a multitude of other things that caused headaches for Gamecock fans everywhere.
Clemson's atmosphere should be as intimidating at LSU and Florida. It'll be loud and amped up for this big time rivalry game. This weekend's game will give South Carolina a chance to show they can handle the big pressure in a road environment.
Clemson's got their issues on defense. They're missing their two starting cornerbacks from a month ago and the defense has been torched by teams with relatively decent offenses. There is no need for South Carolina to enter this game with any sort of trepidation that they can't win here. They've beaten Clemson here as recent as the last game in Death Valley in 2010. They've won the last two out of three in Clemson in the series.
The rivalry game should provide enough ammunition for the Gamecocks to come out with a strong attitude and the right mentality that they can win. A 10th win is on the line for South Carolina as is bragging rights for another year. You think Clemson wants to hear about how they lost to South Carolina…again?
I think we'll see a great attitude on Saturday night and we'll see the best road performance to date from the Gamecocks.
South Carolina and Clemson will face off on ESPN at 7:00 p.m. eastern time with Joe Tessitore providing play-by-play and Matt Millen doing analysis. Shannon Spake will be on the sidelines.