Columbia, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - A Palmetto State showdown is on tap this weekend, as arch rivals Clemson and South Carolina collide in a top 10 battle at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers may not be in the hunt for an ACC crown anymore, but there is still plenty to play for, as Clemson attempts to bolster its resume to earn an at-large BCS bowl bid. The Tigers are 10-1 on the season (7-1 ACC), with the lone loss coming to No. 2 Florida State in mid-October. Clemson has rebounded with four straight wins, including last weekend's 52-6 rout of the Citadel.
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are still alive in the SEC East race, but their fate is out of their hands. At 9-2 overall and 6-2 in league play, USC sits a game behind Missouri in the divisional standings. South Carolina's conference slate came to an end two weeks ago with a win over Florida (19-14). Following last weekend's rout of Coastal Carolina (70-10), the Gamecocks must now hope that Missouri falls in its season finale against Texas A&M, as USC holds the tie-breaker by virtue of its double overtime win at Missouri at the end of October.
Spurrier commented on the challenge that Clemson will present.
"Clemson's a very good team as we all know, I don't know if they've even had a real close game. The one that they lost, they didn't play very well and FSU was really hot that night and so forth. (Clemson) pretty much clobbered everybody they've played since then. So they're a very good team and we've got to play very well if were going to stay on the field with them."
This is the 111th meeting in a longstanding series that dates back to 1896. The two teams have met every season since 1909, the second-longest active series in the FBS. Clemson holds a 65-41-4 series advantage, but the Gamecocks have won four straight and five of the last seven meetings.
The Clemson program has enjoyed great success over the last few seasons and a big reason for it has been the play of All-American quarterback Tahj Boyd.
Boyd orchestrates one of the nation's premier offensive attacks, as Clemson is averaging 42.3 ppg (ninth nationally) and 515.6 total yards (10th nationally).
The senior gun slinger has saved some of his best play for last, as the senior has completed 67.3 percent of his passes, for 3,248 yards, with 29 TDs against just seven INTs.
It has certainly helped to get All-American wideout Sammy Watkins back on track. The 6-foot-1 junior was recently named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, as he has amassed 78 catches on the year, for 1,144 yards and 10 TDs.
The threat of big plays that Boyd and Watkins present has opened up the ground game for tailback Roderick McDowell, who leads the team with 845 yards and four scores. Boyd has a knack for finding the end zone on the ground as well and leads the team with eight rushing scores.
The offense gets almost all of the credit in Death Valley, but this season's defense has played extremely well for the most part. The Tigers are limiting foes to just 353.8 yards per game, thanks in large part to a feverish pass rush that has amassed 31 sacks on the year.
Leading the way in that category is defensive end Vic Beasley. Of his 26 total tackles, 17 have come behind the line of scrimmage, including 10 sacks. Linebackers Stephone Anthony (108 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Spencer Shuey (101 tackles, 5.5 TFL) have both made plays all over the field.
South Carolina will not shy away from turning this game into a shootout. The Gamecocks certainly have the offensive arsenal to match up with most foes. The key is balance, with USC averaging over 200 yards both on the ground (211.2 ypg) and through the air (254.6 ypg).
Like Swinney, Spurrier has his own savvy veteran under center in the form of senior Connor Shaw, who has played mistake-free football for the most part in 2013, completing 61.8 percent of his passes, for 1,983 yards, with 20 TD passes and just a single interception. Bruce Ellington (39 catches, 584 yards, 6 TDs) and Damiere Byrd (30 catches, 549 yards, 4 TDs) highlight the play down the field.
Everyone's job is made a little easier by the rushing exploits of youngster Mike Davis. The 5-9, 215-pound sophomore has rumbled for 1,112 yards this season, with 10 touchdowns and a gaudy 6.2 yards per carry average.
The South Carolina defense may lack the eye-popping numbers that were expected in Columbia this season, but the unit has played well and kept USC in most games. On the year, the Gamecocks are allowing 20.3 ppg, while holding foes to 344.4 yards of total offense.
A lot of the blame for not living up to the hype, has been Jadeveon Clowney. The All-American defensive end is almost a lock to be a top five selection in this year's NFL Draft, despite struggling to post numbers in 2013. Clowney has played in just nine games this season and has a mere 32 total tackles, with 8.5 TFLs and a modest two sacks. Junior tackle Kelcy Quarles (30 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks) has certainly benefited with all the attention Clowney receives. Freshman linebacker Skai Moore (team-high 48 tackles) has made an immediate impact for USC, while cornerbacks Jimmy Legree (43 tackles, 3 INTs) and Victor Hampton (41 tackles, 3 INTs) have made their share of plays in the secondary.
Swinney knows how important this game is the veterans on his roster.
"We have the biggest game of the year this week. For our seniors, they know how important this game is. A win is definitely on the short list of things they haven't done."