Tiger defense, Gamecock offense likely to have something to say about outcome

Steve Spurrier: 'They got athletes all over the field. We've got to block them'

An official breaks up a pair of players shoving each other after a play.

An official breaks up a pair of players shoving each other after a play.

Let's throw out the history and intangibles surrounding Saturday night's rivalry showdown at Death Valley.

For mathematicians, Clemson's offense versus South Carolina's defense might be one of the best matchups of the year in college football — and maybe in the history of the series between the two Palmetto State rivals.

Just looking at the numbers tells you that: The Tigers average 535.6 yards per game, good enough to rank sixth nationally in total offense. They also score 44.6 points per game and run 82 plays per contest.

Thanks to a bevy of talented, speedy skill position players and the strong, accurate arm of QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson's numbers can make the best PlayStation 3 players jealous.

USC's defense isn't too shabby either. The Gamecocks rank 13th nationally in total defense, allowing 310.8 yards per game; they also give up 17.5 points per contest behind a defensive line, led by Jadeveon Clowney, that's one of the best sack units you'll find anywhere.

Some of this you may already know because this is a topic getting plenty of publicity this week.

I hate to inform you that there's another side to Saturday's game. Clemson's defense will have to face South Carolina's offense at some point. There's just no getting around it, obviously, but those aspects are not getting the same kind of attention because, well, neither are very sexy.

After giving up 48 points and nearly 600 yards to N.C. State, the Tigers rank 69th in total defense this week. They aren't as bad when it comes to points allowed (24.7), ranking 47th in the country, but it's clearly the side of the ball the causes the most concern for coach Dabo Swinney.

USC's offense is nothing spectacular, especially without star running back Marcus Lattimore, who's out for the year with a knee injury.

The Gamecocks average 365.9 yards per game, which ranks 93rd nationally, but score 31.8 points per contest. They've been helped out by their defense and special teams, which can create good field position, and when they do get close to the end zone, they usually get six points. USC has 19 touchdowns and five field goals made from inside the 20 in 29 trips.

"We're not a high-powered offense at all," USC coach Steve Spurrier said this week. "We're just sort of a slug-it-out-type of bunch right now that can make a few yards here and a few yards there, try to make some first downs."

While special teams could certainly factor into the outcome of Saturday's game, what USC does — or doesn't do — against Clemson's defense might decide the winner.

And here's why.

I don't know how much the Gamecocks can keep the Tigers out of the end zone. Did they do it last year? Sure. The Tigers ran just 60 plays and scored 13 points in USC's 2011 win.

But that was last year.

The Gamecocks have faced two top-25 offenses already this season: Georgia and Tennessee. The Bulldogs scored only a late, meaningless touchdown while the Vols posted 510 yards and 35 points.

Odds are, the Tigers will at least be somewhere in between, and numbers tell us Clemson will move the football. How many points that generates is hard to tell.

If the Tigers do score quick, it'll keep the defense on the field — a lot. That's been a major reason why they give up so many yards.

"Their defense has played well at times and given up some yards at times," Spurrier said. "But they got athletes all over the field. We've got to block them."

That's an area that could factor in the game, too. USC's offensive line has struggled lately and gave up four sacks against Wofford last week. Throw in the flukiness of turnovers, and you see there's a lot more to think about than just Clemson's offense against USC's defense.

So who's going to capture the Hardee's Trophy?

The Tigers' offense is no joke, but based on the competition level it's faced, it's just hard to know how amazing it really is. On the other hand, Clemson's defense isn't much better than one that gave up 34 to USC in 2011.

The Gamecocks have the right defenders to get after Boyd, but their offense must run the ball effectively behind an offensive line that hasn't blocked well to limit Clemson's scoring chances. I'm not sure if QB Connor Shaw is healthy enough to make plays outside the pocket.

Numbers never lie — and they tell me here that it's probably best to not make a prediction.

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TrevorT writes:

CU-38
SC-30

BTW, that photo is hilarious.

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