A Tale of Two Beginnings

As the season ended last year there appeared to be some obvious questions, as well as obvious answers. When the game clock was at zero and the scoreboard read Clemson 63 South Carolina 17, it seemed as though the two programs were never further apart. The Tigers went on to the Peach Bowl and the Gamecocks stayed home for the second year in a row ...

Clemson rode a wave of success that carried them into the off-season and earned new contracts for Tommy Bowden and his staff. In Columbia, Lou Holtz made several coaching changes, and even agreed to relax some of his stringent rules.

Clemson had won four games in a row to close out the season which had fans and experts predicting a run at a conference title and perhaps more. The Gamecocks were a team in apparent disarray after another November collapse. No one knew what to expect in the new season.

As the first game approached, the Tigers and their fans were talking about quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and the potential of winning the Heisman Trophy. The Gamecocks were talking about not having any stars and playing together as one. The majority of the so-called experts were sure that the Tigers would soar and the Gamecocks would stumble. But in the immortal words of ESPN analyst Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend!"

In week one, the "vaunted" Tigers took on Wake Forest at home and to say they struggled would be like saying that nuclear warheads are just another bomb. They managed to win, but it took a pass interference call, and two overtimes to do it. Meanwhile, the "lowly" Gamecocks traveled to Vanderbilt, and thoroughly dominated the Commodores. Next up for Clemson was a home game against Georgia Tech. The Tigers led by ten late, but managed to give the game away with a bad snap on a punt and cornerbacks that couldn't cover the fade route. The Gamecocks battled number three Georgia, and if not for running out of gas late in the game would have scored the upset. Then last week Clemson hit the road, and apparently forgot to get off of the bus, as they were dominated by Texas A&M. South Carolina met South Florida, and took care of business in impressive fashion.

So now the Tigers are 1-2 while the Gamecocks are 2-1. Some of my comments have been in jest, but now it is time to look at cold hard facts. Clemson, under Tommy Bowden, has not been very effective running the football on offense. This year is certainly no exception as the Tigers are dead last in the ACC averaging only 109 yards rushing a game. Whitehurst is 60-119 for a completion percentage of 50.4% for 755 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has also thrown 7 interceptions, not exactly Heisman-type numbers. Bowden, whose teams are known for offense and scoring, rank 7th in total offense per game with 360.7 and they are 9th in their league in scoring with 22.3 points per game. They are also minus seven in turnover ratio, that is not a recipe for success, at all.

South Carolina, not known for big offensive numbers, by contrast, is 4th in the SEC in total offense with 418.7 yards per game. They are averaging 172 yards rushing per game and show great balance by averaging 246.7 yards passing per game as well. The Gamecocks are also averaging 27.0 points per game. The Gamecocks' two quarterbacks, Dondrail Pinkins and Syvelle Newton, have combined to go 39-64 for a 60.9 completion percentage for 708 yards and 4 touchdowns with only 1 interception. Adding to the success is the fact that South Carolina is plus 5 in turnover margin. Receiver Troy Williamson is first in the SEC and second in the NCAA averaging 167.7 all purpose yards a game as well, that has a certain awards name ring to it.

Defensively, the Tigers are struggling even more. Opponents are averaging 230 yards rushing and 195 yards passing per game against them. Opposing teams are also scoring 28.3 points per game against them. By contrast, South Carolina is only giving up 96 yards rushing; the passing stats are close as the Gamecocks give up 198 yards per game. The biggest difference is that USC opponents are only scoring 9.7 points per game.

What does all of this mean? Clemson has struggled and South Carolina is doing pretty well, that's all. However, the disparity may only grow with future games. Stay tuned to see how it all ends up.

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