CLEMSON — All the ingredients are in place for a special night in Death Valley.
A rare night game is on tap. ESPN is set for a national broadcast.
Arch-rival South Carolina is in town, and combined with Clemson, both teams are in the top 15 nationally for the first time since 1987. The Palmetto State rivals have combined for 19 wins, most ever in the rivalry’s history entering the game.
And Clemson badly, badly wants to beat its rival. The Tigers haven’t done so since 2008, getting outscored 97-37 in the process. A win would be a huge boost toward a second consecutive BCS bid; a loss would mark the Gamecocks’ longest win streak in the rivalry since the 1950s.
Here’s a look at the Gamecocks entering what should be an electric evening of football:
South Carolina boasts one of the nation’s best defenses; the Gamecocks allow 17.5 points and 310.8 yards per game, both 13th-best nationally. They’re eighth nationally in sacks, averaging 3.1 per game, and sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney is a huge reason why. Clowney is a finalist for every major national defensive award and terrorizes opposing tackles, with 8.5 sacks on the season. 6-foot-8 senior end Devin Taylor is also impressive, and senior safety D.J. Swearinger is a fierce tackler who covers ground very well. Junior quarterback Connor Shaw has battled a foot injury, but he ripped the Tigers for 107 rushing yards a year ago and is a threat to extend an play with his legs. Receiver Ace Sanders averages 13.9 yards per punt return, a major concern given the Tigers’ struggles to cover kicks against N.C. State.
Without star tailback Marcus Lattimore, out for the season following a horrific knee injury, USC has struggled on the ground. Backup Kenny Miles had 127 yards against Wofford last week, but managed just 37 yards in 14 carries against Arkansas; he averages 3.8 yards per carry. Leading receiver Bruce Ellington, Andre Ellington’s cousin, has 31 receptions for 492 yards, but is battling a wrist injury. Clowney is also beat-up; he is battling knee and foot issues. The secondary has also been vulnerable in pass coverage, allowing touchdowns of 67 and 78 yards this season. That has to be good news for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who has excelled throwing deep passes to DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant this season. South Carolina also allows 23.9 yards per kick return, 99th nationally.
Four years have passed since Clemson beat South Carolina, an eternity to Tiger fans. With a victory, South Carolina’s streak would be its longest in the rivalry since the 1950s. The Tigers are riding a 13-game home winning streak, a program-best; their last loss came 29-7 at South Carolina’s hands in 2010. That was also Memorial Stadium’s last night game. With plenty of time to tailgate, the atmosphere should be off-the-charts intense. The Gamecocks have an excellent defense and defensive front, but Clemson has scored at least 37 points in 10 consecutive games, a stretch that includes the nation’s No.1 defense, Florida State. If the Tigers can avoid giving up too many big plays of their own and Boyd’s deep balls are effective, South Carolina’s Palmetto State reign will end.
THE PREDICTION: Clemson 38, South Carolina 27.