Clemson, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - Archrivals will close out the regular season at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as the South Carolina Gamecocks take a short trip west to play the 23rd-ranked Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium.
South Carolina has salvaged an otherwise disappointing season with back-to- back wins over Florida (23-20 in OT) and South Alabama (37-12) to pull to 6-5 overall to gain bowl eligibility for the 10th straight season. The Gamecocks finished their SEC slate just 3-5 after going 6-2 in the league in each of the previous three seasons.
Clemson ended its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule with a 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech, dropping it to 6-2 in the league and effectively clinching the Atlantic Division crown for Florida State. The Tigers bounced back with a 28-0 victory over Georgia State last Saturday to move to 8-3 overall and 6-0 in their home stadium.
The storied series sits in Clemson's favor, 65-42-4, although South Carolina has had the upper hand of late with five straight wins, most recently winning in Columbia last season, 31-17.
The Gamecocks' offense has performed very well this season, putting up 34.8 ppg and 461.0 ypg, and they have displayed impressive balance between the run (179.1 ypg) and the pass (281.9 ypg).
Dylan Thompson has shined during his first season as the starting quarterback by completing greater than 60 percent of his passes for 3,031 yards, 26 touchdowns (three rushing) and 11 interceptions. He's showed great consistency as well with at least 200 yards in every game and touchdown in all but one.
Mike Davis is one of the nation's best workhorse tailbacks, as he's turned 174 carries into 888 yards and nine touchdowns. Brandon Wilds is also worked in and has 566 yards and four scores on 99 attempts.
Pharoh Cooper has emerged as not only Thompson's top receiving threat but one of the best in the nation. He's hauled in 58 passes for 921 yards, with the latter ranking in the top-25 nationally, while scoring eight touchdowns. Nick Jones is also solid out wide with 38 receptions for 486 yards and five scores.
The biggest reason for South Carolina's struggles has been the porous play of the defense (30.8 ppg, 428.4 ypg), although the unit has played better in recent weeks by allowing 20 points or less in two straight.
Skai Moore and T.J. Gurley are tied for the team lead in tackles with 72, while Moore has also picked off two passes. Brison Williams has four interceptions and six pass breakups.
Clemson also boasts a stellar offensive attack with 29.6 ppg and 402.7 ypg, but the unit might be without its star quarterback once again.
Deshaun Watson (1,197 passing yards, 187 rushing yards, 15 TDs, two INTs) missed last week's game with a knee injury and has missed several games due to injury this season. With Watson questionable, the Tigers might have to once again turn to Cole Stoudt (1,576 yards, six TDs, nine INTs), who was underwhelming in last week's win with 132 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
The absence of Watson would certainly hurt the Tigers' stud receivers. Artavis Scott (61 receptions, 666 yards, five TDs) and Mike Williams (45 receptions, 859 yards, five TDs) complement each other nicely out wide.
In the backfield, Wayne Gallman paces a modest rushing attack (146.5 ypg) with 523 yards and three touchdowns on 115 carries.
Even when the offense isn't at its best, Clemson can count on one of the best defenses in the nation to pick of the slack, as it allows just 17.6 ppg while owning the best total defense in the FBS (252.4 ypg).
Stephone Anthony leads the team with 71 tackles to go with 9.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles. Vic Beasley (15.5 TFL, 9.0 TFL) is a force on the defensive line. Robert Smith (60 tackles) and Jayron Kearse (55 tackles, 3.0 sacks) have two interceptions apiece.
Steve Spurrier knows how dangerous Clemson's defense can be.
"You have to hope you don't get into a bunch of third-and-10s and third- and-15s. If you have to give your tackles or guards a little help occasionally you need to do that."