We’ve arrived, folks, to the most anticipated weekend in the Palmetto State.
I’m genuinely excited for my first Palmetto Bowl, as I’ve taken in rivalry games from across the country and want to see how this compares.
I’ve seen the Border War of Tigers and Jayhawks, the Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl and Texas facing Oklahoma but very few matchups across the country share the type of common proximity that this one has.
It’s a rivalry that transcends regions, businesses and sometimes even families, as everywhere I’ve gone in the state you have an equal chance of seeing garnet & black or orange & purple.
I’ve heard from so many parents who say to their kids, “You can go anywhere you want to school, except South Carolina,” or one prominent lawmaker who told me earlier this week, “I have four children, two went to Carolina, and the other two went to ‘that unfortunate school in the upstate’.” One gentleman even told me over drinks at a bar that he refused to write the check over his daughter’s college choice.
Simply put, this rivalry means a great deal to people in this state.
I’ve learned there’s a civility to this rivalry, and while there are events like the Tiger burn and Cocky’s Funeral, things have remained dignified for the most part and stay between the white lines. Events like the brawl of 2004 are significant outliers to this rivalry, and both coaches this week admonished any such behavior among the players and fan bases.
Now that we’ve proven that I “get” this rivalry, time for me to make a pick:
Clemson (-14) at South Carolina 7:30 PM (ESPN)
We can hash out this thing every which way and six ways to Sunday, but to me it seems like if you’re looking for a position where South Carolina has an advantage against Clemson, that advantage is either slim or imaginary.
I believe that Kelly Bryant is the more effective quarterback overall, even if you think Jake Bentley is a better thrower. Bentley has numbers to back up a season that would rank in the Top 10 in South Carolina history in yardage and passing efficiency, but he has not shown the knack to take over a game and win solely on his own merits. Bryant has shaken off a couple of weeks of inconsistency, and feels that his confidence and mechanics are in the same place they were when he started the season.
The Gamecocks defense has carried many of the South Carolina offensive efforts, using its opportunistic nature to create turnovers and short fields for the USC offense. They will need to do that in spades to make this a four-quarter ballgame. Clemson’s also big in this category, with 70 points off turnovers compared to just 13 opponent’s points off miscues.
USC’s emerging running attack has improved vastly during the year, but pales in comparison to some of the gaudy rushing numbers that Clemson has put up. Historically, this rivalry has centered on who runs the football best, and Clemson’s 25th best rushing attack in the country compares greatly with the Georgia squad USC saw at the beginning of the month. While they don’t have proven commodities like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster possess big-play ability that can help the Tigers keep the Gamecocks at bay.
While I believe Hayden Hurst has emerged as a big target for Bentley in recent weeks, I believe he’ll meet his match when he sees Dorian O’Daniel on the opposite side of the line. O’Daniel has proven he can cover not only tight ends, but also slow down some of the best receivers on the opposition all year, and Saturday night he should match up with Hurst one-on-one. The Butkus Award Finalist has sideline-to-sideline speed, and can also be a neutralizing key in the run game. The only concern I have for Clemson is the absence of MLB Tre Lamar, as the Tigers will have to rely on James Skalski, JD Davis and Chad Smith to pick up the slack in the middle.
If you’re talking about sideline-to-sideline linebackers, Skai Moore and TJ Brunson of South Carolina believe they will have something to say in that department. Moore missed last year’s game along with the entire season and will look to make a lasting impression in his final regular season game. His battle with Brunson in the team’s tackling department has been widely publicized, as Moore can become the first Gamecocks player to lead his team in tackles during all four seasons of play. Moore currently leads Brunson by three tackles (73 to 70).
At wide receiver, this would be a much fairer fight with Deebo Samuel in the mix. His presence elevates the Gamecocks offense to levels that prognosticators thought USC could attain, but his absence has caused South Carolina to get creative. The youth movement of OrTre Smith and Shi Smith has worked well, as both freshmen look like they’ve shaken off the first year jitters. This game matches up the two ultimate third-down possession receivers with different builds, but equal effectiveness in Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow and USC’s Bryan Edwards. You cannot underestimate the chemistry, however, that Kelly Bryant and Deon Cain have developed, as the two have created one of the most electric deep-ball combos in all of college football.
Special Teams has been the wart of both these teams, as they have taken their lumps in the kicking game with Clemson’s Alex Spence and USC’s Parker White. South Carolina had kick returns with Samuel in the lineup and Ray-Ray McCloud brought a punt back against the same NC State squad which began the season surrendering a kick-return touchdown to the Gamecocks’ Samuel. The team that wins the Special Teams battle could very well put its side over the top on Saturday.
I expect a low-scoring contest, with South Carolina trying to ride the emotion from the opening kickoff and what’s sure to be a hyped 2001 entrance as always happens for night kickoffs at Williams-Brice Stadium. I’m not saying it’s impossible or improbable for South Carolina to win, but I believe Clemson’s advantages will eventually crumble the Gamecocks.
I see a game that flows similarly to the Gamecocks’ loss at Georgia, so much so, that I picked the same score:
Pick: Clemson 24, South Carolina 10
Now it’s your turn, share this article at your Thanksgiving table, and leave your predictions and thoughts in the comments.
Save some pie for me, and I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving with your turkey and stuffing (or dressing, a term I’m beginning to begrudgingly accept).