KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:45 ET
SITE: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
SERIES: Clemson leads 65-39-4 (last meeting, 2010, South Carolina 29-7
RECORDS: Clemson 9-2, South Carolina 9-2
POLLS: Clemson (No. 18 AP, No. 17 USA Today); South Carolina (No. 14 AP, No. 13 USA Today)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Clemson: Head 'em off at the pass. The Tigers will have to defend one of the top receivers in the nation in South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery. Offensively, the Tigers need to get their running game in gear, especially if WR Sammy Watkins isn't 100 percent.
-- For South Carolina: Stop Clemson's running game. While WR Sammy Watkins poses a big-play threat for the Tigers, their rushing may be the key to their success. The Gamecocks must avoid turnovers that would give the Tigers a short field to work with.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Clemson's offense has performed poorly for three consecutive games, and the primary culprit has been turnovers. The Tigers have committed 11 in the last three games, but there are other issues, too -- namely, failure in short-yardage situations. QB Tajh Boyd has thrown six interceptions in the last three games and the Tigers' offensive line has struggled, particularly with LT Phillip Price out with an MCL sprain. Freshman WR Sammy Watkins, who leads the ACC in receptions per game, yardage and touchdowns, also was missed last week against N.C. State after injuring a shoulder the previous week against Wake Forest, but his return should bolster the Tigers' offense.
For the first 26 plays of last week's game at N.C. State, Clemson played its best defense of the season, limiting the Wolfpack to 2.9 yards per play. From there it went downhill in a hurry, but primarily due to offensive miscues that left the defense in terrible positions. A fumble, a drive that resulted in a loss of 15 yards and poor coverage on a punt gave N.C. State the ball at Clemson's 6-, 11- and 18-yard lines on consecutive possessions in the second quarter and the Wolfpack scored after each. Yet the defense did surrender some big plays, including a 43-yard touchdown catch-and-run on which several tackles were missed.
Two players who weren't starting early on have become prominent figures in South Carolina's offense. Sophomore QB Connor Shaw has taken over for the dismissed Stephen Garcia, and freshman RB Brandon Wilds has had to step in for the injured Marcus Lattimore. Shaw had a big game against The Citadel, going 16-of-18 passing for 217 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 90 yards. In eight games, he is completing 64.9 percent of his passes. Wilds has rushed for over 100 yards in three of his four games since Lattimore went out. As a team, the Gamecocks are rushing for just under 197 yards a game, which is 22 yards a game more than they are passing for.
South Carolina is ailing at linebacker going into the finale with Damario Jeffery, Shaq Wilson, Reginald Bowens, and Quin Smith reporting various injuries. The Gamecocks were gashed for 241 yards on the ground by The Citadel's triple-option attack, about 100 more yards than they usually give up. The Gamecocks have 17 interceptions with four players -- CB C.C. Whitlock, SPUR Antonio Allen, CB Stephon Gilmore, and FS D.J. Swearinger leading with two apiece. DEs Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney have combined for 11.5 of the team's 20 sacks.
Tigers: The combined 18 victories are the most ever by the two rivals entering the game. ... The Clemson-South Carolina series has been unpredictable in recent years as five of the last seven years the team with the better overall record entering the game has lost. ... The fact that this year's game is being played at night could weigh in the Tigers' favor. Clemson has not lost a night game in Columbia since 1987. ... Clemson has more wins over South Carolina (65) than any other opponent, and those victories represent 10 percent of Clemson's all-time victory total of 656. ... Clemson and South Carolina will be playing for the 109th time overall and for the 103rd consecutive year. That is the third-longest streak of consecutive years played in a rivalry in the nation. ... Cousins Andre Ellington and Bruce Ellington will be on the field in the same uniform numbers (23) for their schools. Andre Ellington is Clemson's leading rusher with 871 yards and nine touchdowns while Bruce Ellington is the Gamecocks' second-leading all-purpose runner with 623 yards. ... Sophomore WR DeAndre Hopkins topped the 100-reception mark for his career in the Tigers' loss at N.C. State last week. He became just the second Clemson player in history to reach 100 receptions by the end of his sophomore year, joining Derrick Hamilton.
Gamecocks: South Carolina is going for a 10th win for just the second time in school history. The only other time the Gamecocks finished in double digits in victories was in 1984. They have had nine wins twice, including last year when they won the SEC Eastern Division. ... The Gamecocks also are going for a third consecutive victory over their instate rival Clemson. The last time they accomplished that was a run from 1968-70. ... This will be the first time since 2000 that both South Carolina and Clemson will go into their game as ranked teams. ... The last time the two teams met in Columbia Clemson's C.J. Spiller returned the opening kickoff 88 yards fora touchdown, but the Gamecocks recovered from that blow to post a 34-17 victory. ... The Gamecocks have won their last 11 non-conference games. ... Coach Steve Spurrier is 4-5 against Clemson as a coach, going 1-2 against the Tigers in his time at Duke and 3-3 while at South Carolina. His Florida Gators did not play Clemson. ... RT Mike Matulis continues to impress since being made the starter. The offense has been more productive, and he completed his second straight game without allowing a sack.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
FS Rashard Hall -- Hall, a senior, will be counted on to help limit South Carolina standout WR Alshon Jeffery. At 6-4, 230 pounds, Jeffery has a considerable size advantage over all of Clemson's defensive backs, so they will all be relying on help. Most of it could come from Hall, who's the biggest of the bunch at 6-1, 210.
WR Sammy Watkins -- All eyes will be on Watkins and his shoulder, which he injured two weeks ago. If he's 100 percent, or at least close to that, he is Clemson's primary game changer, with more than 1,000 yards receiving and 68 catches this season.
QB Tajh Boyd -- Boyd has twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three) the past three games, but overall has been a standout this season. He has completed 61.5 percent of his passes in throwing for 296 yards a game. He has 27 touchdown passes against only nine interceptions.
QB Connor Shaw -- Shaw continues to improve as he receives on-the-job training. He is 98-of-151 passing for 1,008 yards. One problem area is his touchdown pass-to-interception ratio. He has nine of the former but also has thrown for six picks.
RB Brandon Wilds -- Wilds had his second straight 100-yard rushing game and third in his four starts since taking over for injured All-American Marcus Lattimore. He rushed 20 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns, while catching four passes for 55 yards against The Citadel. Just as important, he managed to block well in blitz protection.
DT Travian Robertson -- Robertson is playing his best football of the season and is coming off a performance when he was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week for his play last Saturday. He led all USC down linemen with seven tackles, including one for loss.
WR Sammy Watkins (shoulder, probable), OT Phillip Price (knee, questionable), WR Martavius Bryant (neck, questionable), OT Brandon Thomas (knee, questionable).
DE Jadeveon Clowney (concussion, day-to-day), LB Damario Jeffery (ankle, doubtful), WR Bruce Elllington (ankle, probable), LB Shaq Wilson (knee, probable).
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