Clemson may be a team that has struggled at times this season, but it definitely hasn't been the defense. The Tiger defense is #24 in the nation in total defense, giving up 324 yards per game. Even more impressive than that, the Clemson defense has only given up just under 17 points per game, good enough to tie Nebraska for ninth in the nation. It all starts up front for the Tigers.
"Clemson's d-line might be the best we've faced all year," South Carolina center T.J. Johnson said. "They've got a bunch of talented guys that play really well - they're very fundamentally sound and play good with their hands - so it's going to be a challenge for us."
The Tiger defensive line features big bodies in the middle and speed on the ends. Tackles Brandon Thompson and Jarvis Jenkins bring a lot of size at 6'2, 310 pounds and 6'4, 315 pounds, respectively. Jenkins has 51 tackles and a sack this season while Thompson has 45 tackles and a sack for the Tigers up the middle.
However, it's the ends that cause the most problems. 6'5, 260 pound Andre Branch and 6'3, 275 pound Da'Quan Bowers have terrorized backfields all season. Branch has 42 tackles and four sacks, while Bowers has 63 tackles and a national-best 15.5 sacks this season. You know where Branch, Thompson and Jenkins will be lined up, however, Bowers will line up all over the place.
"He's (Bowers) a guy that's so multiple," offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. "He can line up inside (or) both defensive ends. He's going to be a challenge. He's one of the best we've faced and probably be the best we've faced in a long time."
To say that Bowers will be the best the Gamecocks face is an understatement. Bowers, a unanimous #1 player in the country coming out of high school, struggled a bit for his standards the first two seasons. While Bowers had 105 tackles his first two seasons, he only had four sacks. Bowers has gone from a average defensive lineman - statistically speaking - to a legitimate top 10 NFL pick.
"We're not going to be able to get a read on him," Elliott said. "He's a guy that's going to be a force to be reckoned with. I just hope we can get in his way - I told them to fall down, cut him - do whatever we've got to do to stop him."
Perhaps the best thing the Gamecocks can do is go the other way.
"If he lines up on the left we sprint away from him to the right," Elliott said with a laugh. "If he lines up on the right we sprint to our left. That's about the best solution I could come up with. He's such a tremendous athlete that we're just going to have to play our best and hope our best is good enough."
The guy that the Gamecocks want to keep Bowers away from - other than quarterback Stephen Garcia - is running back Marcus Lattimore. It's been easy to see this season that the Gamecocks are only as successful as Lattimore is.
"We've got to run the ball," Lattimore said. "When we run the ball effectively we play good."
In South Carolina's three losses, Lattimore was taken out of the game, either by the defensive game plan or injury. In the Gamecocks' loss to Auburn, Lattimore rushed for just 33 yards and a touchdown. In the loss to Kentucky, Lattimore was key in building a 28-10 halftime lead, but was injured on the first drive of the second half and could only watch from the sidelines as the Wildcats stormed back to pull off the upset. In the loss to Arkansas, Lattimore was held to a season-low 30 yards.
"As a freshman he's really been mature and he's handled the pressure going in and playing the teams we're playing, not only the teams in the SEC but Clemson this week," running back coach Jay Graham said. "He's done a good job."
Lattimore, who grew up just 50 miles from Clemson in Duncan, South Carolina, is looking forward to his first true taste of the rivalry.
"It's crazy," Lattimore said of the rivalry. "It's mostly Clemson fans from where I come from, but I'm a Gamecock. It's great tradition across the state and I'm just really looking forward to my first Clemson-Carolina game."
The other player that the Tigers will have to look out for is Biletnikoff Finalst receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery, who enters the game with 1,210 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, has never been bashful to say what's on his mind.
"Me and D.J. Swearinger was talking about this the other day," Jeffery said of the game. "We can't wait until Saturday to get on that field. It's going to be an exciting game. I've been waiting for this game all season. I want to go to Clemson and beat them in Clemson."
- Ronald Patrick has a foot injury that was was re-injured in the win over Troy and has not practiced this week. He likely will not be available.
- Stephon Gilmore has returned to practice and is fine and will play Saturday.
- Marty Markett looked better today and will likely be ready to go Saturday.
With Thanksgiving on Thursday, there will be no media availability following practice.
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