As the “witching hour” of the College Football season approaches, South Carolina and Clemson begin a three-week stretch drive following their open weeks.
Clemson still controls its own destiny for a repeat trip to the ACC Championship and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. South Carolina, conversely, has an uphill battle to win the next three weeks and get help to secure a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
We start with Clemson, who needs to rid itself of a sour taste in its mouth.
Clemson (-14) vs. Georgia Tech, 8 PM (ABC)
Syracuse was a crushing defeat.
The reason it was so crushing, was because it put so many question marks on the table.
Should Kelly Bryant have started?
Is the Clemson defense more vulnerable in the secondary than previously thought?
Can the run game be effective if Kelly Bryant is deemed one-dimensional?
Can this offensive line protect Bryant (or whoever is at QB) adequately?
All of these answers may not come to pass this week, but they will all be answered by the end of the three-week binge of Georgia Tech, NC State and Florida State.
Brent Venables has had Georgia Tech figured out for the most part, with Clemson winning four of the five matchups where he has served as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
The spin from the Yellow Jackets centers around this offense looking a lot more efficient than it has in recent years. When they’ve run the option in the past, they’ve used a ratio of about a one pass for every five runs. This year, the running game has been so productive, Georgia Tech is only passing it once every TEN runs.
Georgia Tech is a team that inexplicably has two losses on its slate, and could very well be undefeated. They should have beaten Tennessee and lost late to a Miami team that could end up as smoke and mirrors before the year is out.
I’ll go to my grave believing that Kelly Bryant should have been lifted before getting concussed against Syracuse. Moreover, I believe he had no business starting against the Orange and that Dabo Swinney and the offensive staff should have prepared Zerrick Cooper or Hunter Johnson to start that week by giving one of the two players all the first-team reps at quarterback. I’m not saying I don’t trust Swinney when he says Bryant is good to go this week, but I’m going to need Bryant to show me he’s 100 percent (or at least effective enough to fake like he is).
Clemson should win this game, but they’ve done well to test the nerves of their fan base over the last two weeks. Swinney has once again come with the “biggest game of the year” mentality to make sure the Tigers don’t look ahead to a potential ranked-on-ranked matchup with NC State in one week.
Despite the huffing on Georgia Tech’s side, I believe Venables continues to have the magic potion to poison the Yellow Jackets option. Now all we need to do is figure out if Clemson had the magic spell to heal Bryant and its offense.
Pick: Clemson 21, Georgia Tech 13
South Carolina (-7) vs. Vanderbilt, 4 PM (SEC Network)
While Clemson gets a Georgia Tech team coming into their building that’s riding high, South Carolina gets a Vanderbilt team that rolls in for homecoming weekend in disrepair.
Whoever Derek Mason made mad in the SEC scheduling office really got him good, as any slate with Alabama, at Florida and Georgia all in a row is a tough ask for most SEC programs. By the time the Commodores limped into Oxford, they looked as impotent as a team that was hardened by the load of the previous trio.
The preseason brought about the promise of coach’s son Kyle Shurmur and Vanderbilt’s all-time rushing leader Ralph Webb having their coronation seasons. Webb has barely provided a whimper with just 408 yards through seven games, while Shurmur is averaging a paltry 190 yards passing-per-game and completing just 55 percent of his passes.
Opponents have had an easy against the ‘Dores defense as well, with teams averaging 30 points against Vanderbilt and opposing offenses averaging 413 yards per game.
I feel like I’ve typed the following sentence at least five times this season,
This is the week the Gamecocks offense should get back on track.
I’m tired of the excuses, the blame game with Kurt Roper and whatever injury Will Muschamp will blame on them not having their full arsenal. While Deebo Samuel and Rico Dowdle are still on the shelf, USC returns three offensive linemen in Zack Bailey, Cory Helms and Malik Young to the fold.
The Vanderbilt defense CAN.NOT.STOP.THE.RUN. They average 242 yards allowed in the run game. There should be such a heavy dose of Ty’Son Williams, AJ Turner and Mon Denson that it should make Mason’s eyes spin.
Jake Bentley, meet Hayden Hurst, Hayden, meet Jake. You guys acquainted? Good. Now figure out a way to connect on the football field. There’s no reason why such a physical matchup nightmare can be so under-utilized in an offense. No disrespect intended to OrTre Smith, Shi Smith and Bryan Edwards, but Hurst should be a leading receiver on this team.
A moment on Bentley, who needs to prove to me that he can play a full four quarters of efficient football. It will take nothing short of that to win any game remaining on South Carolina’s schedule save for the penultimate affair with Wofford. Whether it’s happy feet, being too jacked up at the start or still acclimating to reading defenses, Bentley needs to step up and lead like a player who has now had at least a full season’s worth of starting experience at the SEC level.
South Carolina should roll in this game, and I believe they will.
Pick: South Carolina 35, Vanderbilt 17
Now it’s your turn to post your opinion about this week’s action and your reaction to my picks in the comments below.
Trick or Treat safely, y’all.