Rivalry week in college football is debated as the most entertaining week in the entire regular season. That week reveals deep rooted rivalries that dates back several decades and in some cases, over a century.
When it comes to the South Carolina and Clemson rivalry, also known as the Palmetto Bowl, the origin of this matchup of two teams dates back all the way to 1896. The Gamecocks received the first victory in the series that year by beating Clemson 12-6.
Fast forward to 2016, this game features two bitter rivals that has national championship/College Football Playoff possibilities for the Clemson Tigers (10-1, 7-1 ACC). Postseason play is at stake for the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-5, 3-5 SEC) with a possibility to improve their bowl game placement. Not to mention that the Gamecocks have an opportunity to completely ruin their arch rival’s chances of making the CFP. Can the Tigers get the job done or will the Gamecocks play the spoiler role and succeed? Here is the preview of this interesting matchup.
What To Know About South Carolina
It’s year one for head coach Will Muschamp in Columbia, South Carolina and while his Gamecocks are bowl-eligible, it has not been an easy season by any means. The team is fairly young, including at the most important position. True freshman quarterback Jake Bentley is under center this late in the season and his father is the team’s running backs coach, Bobby Bentley. Bentley received his first start of the season in late October against UMass and has not looked back since. On the season, Bentley has thrown for 989 yards, six touchdowns, only one interception, and generated a 4-1 record as a starter. True freshman running back Rico Dowdle leads the team in rushing and rushing touchdowns with 684 yards and six touchdowns. The running back by committee approach for the team includes A.J Turner (433 yards, two TDs) and David Williams (239 yards, three TDs). Weapons in the passing game are scarce but Deebo Samuel (41 catches, 579 yards) and freshman Bryan Edwards (486 yards, two TDs) have the the go-to guys at receiver.
While the offense has plenty of youth, it’s the complete opposite on defense. The experience on defense for the Gamecocks has helped the unit tremendously and the strength of the group is arguably at linebacker. Junior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams (61 tackles, eight tackles for loss), T.J. Holloman (59 tackles, three INTs), and Jonathan Walton (55 tackles, 4.5 TFLs) are first, third, and fourth on the team in tackles. He may not be like those before him in the past, but defensive end Darius English has been very productive this season with nine sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. His nine sacks on the season are the most by any Gamecock since 2013.
What To Know About Clemson
The leader in the locker room for the Tigers is the 2015 Heisman finalist DeShaun Watson. The 6’2 dual threat has thrown for 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions but his running element has scaled back this season with just 420 yards and four touchdowns after eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards last season. What is truly scary about the offense is the amount of receiving threats Watson has at his disposal. Receiver Mike Williams is the main guy at receiver with 1,014 yards and seven touchdowns but it’s Deon Cain who leads the team in touchdown receptions with nine while averaging 18.4 yards per catch. Slot receivers Artavis Scott and Ray-Ray McCloud combine for 96 catches and six touchdowns. With all of that, many forget the talent at tight end with Jordan Leggett (31 catches, four TDs) and Hunter Renfrow (26 catches, three TDs).
The defense ushered in several new starters this season but they are still as active and dominant. The Tigers are second in college football in tackles for loss per game with 8.7 and fourth in sacks with 3.55 per game. Sophomore defensive end Christian Wilkins leads the team in tackles for loss with 12.5 but Clemson has a pair of defensive tackles in Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence that eat up space and blockers and the two have a knack for disrupting plays on the consistent basis. Strong safety Jadar Johnson leads the team in interceptions with four and is one of the “new” starters on defense this season.
This is one of those rivalries that falls in that category of “intense”. It’s not on the level of Ohio State-Michigan or Oklahoma-Texas but it is a contested rivalry that is built of pure dislike or “hatred” if you want to take it to that level.
The Tigers are currently in the College Football Playoff with their #4 ranking and many still have recollections of their loss at home to Pittsburgh two weeks ago. A loss late in the season that has the team still in the picture but dangling on the cusp of not making the four-team Playoff with another loss.
Bentley has been overly impressive for the Gamecocks since his insertion and he has tempted many to believe he is the quarterback of the future for Muschamp and South Carolina.
Heading into one of the toughest venues in college football, it is going to be up to an experienced defense for the Gamecocks to make a few plays to help out their young offense. Clemson is tied for 105th in all of college football in offensive turnovers on the season with 22. Which goes to show how advanced their talent level is to be that low in that department and still rank as the fourth best team in the country.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney applied an aggressive and angry approach against Wake Forest last week to make a statement to the CFP committee that are still considered one of the best. The same mindset will be applied here for the Tigers as they utilize a rivalry game as another opportunity to make another critical statement. South Carolina struggled two weeks ago on the road in a loud environment against Florida, who has one of the best defenses in the country also. The Gamecocks were held to just 256 total yards and did not score until 6:53 remaining in the game. That young offense goes into another dangerous territory and with the Tigers on a warpath, if Clemson can protect the ball, the talent disparity between both teams will allow this to get out of hand quick.
Score – Clemson 42 South Carolina 17