It’s very rare when it seems like South Carolina and Clemson have similar missions in the same weekend.
Both teams have tasks against rivals from the state of Florida who have had seasons that have underperformed their expectations. One team has lost its sure-fire starting quarterback, and the other has lost its head coach, and many argue its competitive spirit over the last two weeks.
We’ll start with the Gamecocks, who need to regain the offensive momentum they built up against Vanderbilt.
South Carolina (-6) vs. Florida, Noon (CBS)
I wrote after the game against Georgia that South Carolina shouldn’t be ashamed of the way they played against the Bulldogs except for the way they struggled with tackling and lacking an offensive rhythm.
The tackling issue is a bit of an outlier for a defense which has led the team for most of the season, yet looked also skittish against Vanderbilt.
South Carolina’s secondary looked to have been making positive strides, but giving up a pair of 50/50 balls in the end zone cost them 14 points, which made up the final margin in the game. Jamarcus King, who had talked about improving his ability to get his head around on passes was the culprit on one of those plays.
The Gamecocks went away from some of the offensive plays that gained them success against the Commodores, such as the counters, stretch runs and using Jake Bentley as running option. Bentley also regressed, opting for shots down the field when a more conservative throw could have kept USC on the field.
Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper has taken the brunt of the criticism this season for South Carolina’s lack of offensive success, and I’m starting to think he’s trying to put a square peg in a round hole with this scheme and personnel.
Bentley is not your prototypical RPO quarterback because he’s not inclined to run unless he’s told to. This is the rare case where you have to tell the quarterback to run instead of pass, when the opposite is usually true.
Corey Miller, the former Gamecock who appears on our M&M Boys weekly segment, says that he believes once Fort Dorchester senior Dakereon Joyner joins USC in the spring, South Carolina will have a quarterback competition on its hands. Joyner fits more of the scheme that Roper is trying to force-feed the current offense, and despite Bentley’s seasoning, there could be reason for him to be looking over his shoulder.
I’m not calling for Bentley’s job, but I’m still waiting for the game where he looks like the quarterback and this offense looks like the explosive machine many believed it would be in the preseason. There are too many skill position players for South Carolina that have yet to get going fully this season.
Florida is not the same team that beat the Gamecocks, 20-7, last year in The Swamp, far from it. The Gators are down 28 scholarship players with either injury or suspension and got blitzed in games against Georgia and Missouri. Malik Zaire, who many had clamored to get his first shot at quarterback, failed to impress in his first start against the Tigers. The Gators are also depleted on defense, and South Carolina should find positive sledding.
A win here would give the Gamecocks a clear path to an eight-win season, and could get South Carolina to a top-tier bowl game. Anything other than a convincing win would be a massive disappointment.
Pick: South Carolina 35, Florida 10
Clemson (-16) vs. Florida State, 3:30 (ESPN)
Much like Florida, the team from the state’s panhandle has had its share of struggles this season.
Florida State, unlike the Gators, however, comes in off a home win against Syracuse, the author of Clemson’s lone loss this season.
Clemson used the “survive and advance” model last week, as they escaped Carter-Finley Stadium with a win against the Wolfpack. The Tigers proved they could win in a week where Kelly Bryant didn’t play his best game, and survived having to use wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud on defense.
The secondary of the Tigers should get a boost when Marcus Edmond returns to the lineup for the first time since Week Two, but Mark Fields is still down with a foot injury. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables said Wednesday that McCloud improved after a week of practice despite struggling down the stretch against NC State.
The running back competition between Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster makes for a delicious combination for the Tigers in the backfield. While Etienne has had his way with the explosive plays to close out games, it was Feaster who broke off an 89-yard run for what turned into the winning touchdown against the Wolfpack.
Much like it did against South Carolina, NC State’s offense gashed Clemson for a lot of yards, but failed to win. Florida State still has the kind of talent on offense to make things happen, and some of the defensive breakdowns from the Tigers have kept Clemson in games they should have salted away.
One positive for Clemson is that they held NC State to 3-of-13 on third down, but also allowed the Wolfpack to go 2-of-3 on 4th Down.
While the Seminoles haven’t gotten the quarterback play they’ve wanted out of James Blackman, they still have skill position players like Cam Akers and Nyqwan Murray who can be game-breakers for Florida State.
The winner of this game has gone to the ACC Championship Game in the last eight years, and won the conference as a whole in the last six. Expect Clemson to keep that streak alive, but for the Seminoles to keep it close for comfort.
Pick: Clemson 28, Florida State 24
Now it’s your turn, feel free to leave your picks and comments on mine in the comments section below. Stay warm!