Corbett: Previewing the rivalry game
Last year I wrote that the Carolina - Clemson game was a pivotal game in the Steve Spurrier era, as it was a chance to take a 2-1 lead in his personal series with the Tigers. After last year's second consecutive close loss at home to Clemson, the chance to pull even at 2-2 is one Spurrier's Gamecocks cannot mess up.
With the state's high school players watching and USC fans squirming, the chance to beat their arch-rival with an interim coach at the end of an unexpectedly poor season, the Gamecocks can strike a major blow – or can get a knockout punch.
A loss to Clemson cannot take away a bowl bid, but it can further solidify the Tigers as the top dog in SC college football. This is a golden opportunity for USC to not only continue the march to pass Tennessee, but also to pull even with or potentially ahead of its arch-rival that plays in a supposedly inferior football conference. If the Gamecocks do not win this game with a better performing team and one of the best defenses in the nation, while Clemson is overshadowed by the question of who will be their next head coach, there will be gnashing of teeth by many Carolina fans, even among the movers and shakers.
THE FIVE KEYS TO VICTORY
The first key to USC winning is being more physical than Clemson.
On his post-game radio show after Saturday's win over Virginia, Tiger Coach Dabo Swinney said his team had to be the more aggressive squad to beat Virginia. The more physical team will win Saturday's game. If played straight up, the team that pressures the other team's offensive line best should win. The Gamecock offensive line needs to listen to the pop group Toto and "Hold the Line." Just like an army in the Civil War, the offensive line will be tempted to backpedal quickly when it senses pressure at its center or on the flanks. The line, especially left guard Jamon Meredith and left tackle Jarriel King, must use strength and determination to win the play and the day – or all may be lost.
USC has the better defense, one of the best in the nation, so Carolina should be able to blitz and disrupt the Tigers' normal offense all day. But Clemson will try to isolate C.J. Spiller in as many different ways as possible.
The second key is stopping C.J. Spiller one on one with sure tackles.
Clemson will try to create one on one chances for Spiller with linebackers and defensive backs on quick screens, pitches, and any other way it can. Clemson needs Spiller to score a touchdown with one good move and his super speed. Carolina must eliminate those opportunities by hurrying Quarterback Cullen Harper and the entire offense into altering their plans - or to make sure tackles in the open field.
Playing straight up, USC's defense should throttle Clemson's offense. Clemson's offensive line – though called "improved" by Tiger coaches lately – will be pressured and pushed around. So the Tigers will try to get Spiller the ball quickly and in the open field to negate USC's superior pass rush. Spiller could easily negate the effect of a long Carolina scoring drive or two. If points are precious in this game, these plays by Spiller could be the difference, a possibility that will keep Carolina coaches up several nights this week.
The third key to beating Clemson is sharp quarterback play.
If you watched the Arkansas game closely, you saw great play calls that should have led to touchdown passes. You have to figure that Coach Spurrier and his son Steve Jr. will find ways to get receivers open for potential touchdowns, just as they did against the Razorbacks. The question is whether the quarterbacks, starter Chris Smelley or Stephen Garcia, can get the receivers the ball. Against Arkansas, these two QB's, kept delivering the ball late, or high, or wide, or after a DB had the chance to realize someone was open near the end zone and then react to break up the seemingly sure scoring pass. If the USC quarterbacks were sharp, the offense would have had two more touchdowns instead of two field goals, meaning 8 more points, and the Gamecocks would not have had to score on defense or set up short and easy TD drives for USC to beat Arkansas by a comfortable margin.
To me, it appears that Chris Smelley cannot consistently beat an SEC defense; but he should be able to beat what has been a good ACC defense like Clemson's with Spurrier's plan and play calling. The Virginia game could be a sign the Tigers' defense is better than it has shown this season. Should the Tigers rise up and play their best defensive game of the season, say like the 1980 Tigers who upset George Rogers and his Top 20 Gamecocks, sharp quarterback play will be necessary for USC to win. Without it, Gamecock fans can expect heartbreak or a frustratingly close game where Clemson is always just a play or even two away from winning the game.
The fourth key for USC is touchdown passes just outside the red zone.
Earlier this year, I said that USC needs more 25-30 yard touchdown passes because of its red-zone problems scoring touchdowns. This could be the game where the Spurrier offense connects for TD's just outside the red zone instead of trying to move the ball into it. Just a little more field to defend can make the touchdown pass easier to throw against the Tiger secondary.
The fifth key is for USC's entire team to have a cornerback's memory.
You have heard that cornerbacks have to quickly forget mistakes that lead to touchdowns and come back to play the next play or series with a fresh slate. USC must forget Clemson's dominance in this series and concentrate on this game. If it is close in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks cannot think about USC not winning two straight over the Tigers since the 1970's, or how Clemson has been able to spring the upsets in the series with teams that on paper were inferior to Carolina, while the Gamecocks have almost always lost to Tiger teams considered better than USC.
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