Clemson is a much better football team than USC. On paper. On the field. There is no arguing that point. The Tigers are more talented. They are deeper, faster and more experienced. And they are pressure proof having been in the national spotlight now for the better part of two seasons.
So, as a 24 point underdog, how can anyone think USC can win Saturday night? Well, as long as a football is spherical it will take funny bounces that lead to surprising outcomes. We see it all the time at all levels of the sport. The best team doesn’t always win.
And here’s what the Gamecocks must do to upset the applecart in Death Valley:
- Do not kick off deep to return men Artavis Scott or Ray Ray McCloud. Now, this might be a moot point if the Gamecocks don’t score and get the chance to kick off more than once, but with the way they have covered kicks, and the speed of Clemson’s return men, kicking deep would be foolish. If Elliott Fry can’t get it deep into the end zone, kick it out of bounds.
- Run Rico Dowdle right up the gut of the defense. Dowdle has displayed two traits of a great running back, cutting ability and breaking tackles. Teams that have had some success running on Clemson have done so between the guards. Sometimes those defensive tackles slant the wrong way or the linebackers don’t fill the gaps. Trying to run wide on Clemson would be fruitless because of the Tigers’ speed. Dowdle, and possibly AJ Turner, could find some running room straight ahead.
- Throw quick passes and trust the receivers can make plays. Jake Bentley is not going to have time in the pocket to wait for his second or third choice. The Gamecock offensive line has been horrible in pass blocking, or maybe Bentley holds the ball too long. Whatever the case, he’s been sacked a lot, and Clemson is among the nation’s best at that. So, slow developing pass plays won’t work. Quick slants and back shoulder passes against the press coverage Bentley will face could work, and then the Gamecocks have to hope Deebo Samuel or Bryan Edwards can break a tackle and run for yardage.
- Defensively, do not blitz, do not play man coverage. The Gamecocks should not fret over yielding yardage between the 20s. Clemson is going to get yards. The Gamecocks’ best hope on defense is keeping Clemson’s receivers in front of the secondary then making sure tackles. Make the Tigers drive the ball and not score in chunk plays. Then, hope for the best in the red zone where Clemson has suffered with turnovers.
Now, do I truly believe USC will win Saturday? No. It’s not time yet for the Gamecocks. I think 2017 in Columbia most likely will be their next real chance to taste victory in the rivalry. But I don’t think they will lose by the 24 point spread. And by following the gameplan above, they can make it closer than that and perhaps make the Tigers sweat a bit in the fourth quarter.
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