The annual meeting between South Carolina and Clemson for bragging rights in the Palmetto State always has plenty of intrigue, but there’s a little more at stake in 2013 when these two teams take the field.
For the first time in this rivalry’s history, both programs are ranked as top-10 teams in the Associated Press poll. This year’s meeting is also the third consecutive matchup where South Carolina and Clemson both rank as top-25 teams.
Over the last three years, these two programs have been among the most successful teams in college football. Clemson is 31-7 during that span and has one ACC Championship. South Carolina is 31-6 over the last three years, and if Missouri loses to Texas A&M on Saturday night, the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship next weekend.
Recent history has favored South Carolina in this series. The Gamecocks have won the last four games over Clemson, including a 27-17 matchup in Death Valley last year.
Clemson’s last win in this series came in 2008, while its last victory at South Carolina occurred in 2007.
South Carolina has won each of the last four games in this series by at least 10 points.
Clemson at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: South Carolina – 5
Clemson’s Key to Victory: Protect QB Tajh Boyd
Clemson leads the ACC in total offense, averaging 518.3 yards per game in conference-only action. The Tigers rank third in the ACC with an average 6.3 yards per play and have scored at least 30 points eight times this season. All of those numbers sound great on paper, but Clemson has been unable to replicate those totals against South Carolina in recent years. In the last four meetings against the Gamecocks, the Tigers have not scored more than 17 points. A big problem for Clemson has been pass protection. In last year’s meeting, South Carolina sacked quarterback Tajh Boyd six times and held the signal-caller to just 183 yards passing on 11 completions. In two starts against the Gamecocks, Boyd has completed just 41.5 percent of his passes. However, considering Boyd has been sacked 11 times in the last two meetings, the senior has to have more help. The Tigers have allowed 27 sacks in 11 games this year, and with South Carolina’s defensive line one of the best in the SEC, the offensive line has to have their best performance of the season.
South Carolina’s Key to Victory: Establish the run with Mike Davis
If South Carolina is able to establish its ground game against Clemson, the Gamecocks will be able to control the tempo and pace of the game. Running back Mike Davis did not play in last week’s game against Coastal Carolina, but the sophomore is expected to be in the lineup on Saturday night. Davis is one of the SEC’s top running backs, recording 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns on 179 attempts. He is also a valuable weapon out of the backfield, catching 30 passes for 332 yards. Davis isn’t the only runner for South Carolina, as Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds are capable options, while quarterback Connor Shaw is averaging 10 carries a game. Clemson has been slightly susceptible to the run this season, allowing an average of 3.8 yards per carry on 445 attempts. The Tigers allowed the last three opponents to reach the 100-yard mark, including 248 to Georgia Tech. However, Clemson held Boston College to 94 yards, and Florida State averaged 3.2 yards per carry on 38 attempts on Oct. 19. South Carolina’s offense can match the Tigers in a shootout, but Steve Spurrier wouldn’t mind if the Gamecocks control the clock and keep Tajh Boyd on the sidelines.
Key Player: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd is arguably one of the top-10 players in Clemson’s history. In his three seasons under center, the Tigers are 31-7 with an ACC Championship, along with a BCS bowl appearance against West Virginia. While Boyd has been one of Clemson’s best players in school history, there’s one thing missing: A win over South Carolina. The senior hasn’t played particularly well against the Gamecocks, but he needs more help from his supporting cast. Boyd doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards on Saturday night, but the senior has to have a standout performance for Clemson to win against their in-state rivals.
Balance and pass protection are crucial for Clemson’s offense on Saturday night. The Tigers need to open running lanes for running back Roderick McDowell, and Boyd has to connect with receiver Sammy Watkins on a few big passing plays. If Clemson goes pass heavy or has no run threat, South Carolina's defensive line will be able to control the line of scrimmage. The Gamecocks allowed only nine passing scores in the SEC, while holding opponents to 58.5 passes completed. Although Clemson has struggled in this series over the last four years, the Tigers are in good shape to challenge South Carolina. But even with an explosive offense and a determination to end the four-game losing streak, Clemson falls short on Saturday night. The Gamecocks control the clock, and quarterback Connor Shaw does just enough to earn South Carolina’s fifth win in a row over its in-state rival.
Prediction: South Carolina 30, Clemson 24