Enemy Talk: Clemson Talk with ACC Rivals

It is Thanksgiving and that means Gamecocks versus Tigers talk around the dinner table.  To get things started, we did a Q&A with ACC Rivals about this upcoming game.  You can read our responses to their questions HERE.

Below is my questions and Stephen’s answers.  He is a featured writer for ACC Rivals and covers the Clemson Tigers –

1.  How important is the this rivalary game in the eyes of Clemson fans?

This game is always important because Tiger fans and Gamecock fans have to live with each other.  Anyone who lives in this state has to deal with rival fans all the time and now with the advent of online message boards and fansites, you can live anywhere and be accosted by a hostile fan of your least favorite team.  Take last year, when the Tigers finally accomplished something by winning the ACC Atlantic, the loss to the Gamecocks was still a bitter pill for fans.  Even if we had won the conference and gone to the Orange Bowl, we still would have had to deal with the fact that our archrival kicked our butt. 

So this game is always important, but this year that importance is magnified because of how our season has gone.  We absolutely choked on our chances to win our division, have looked terrible at times, and our fanbase is questioning the direction of the program.  A win against a quality team and hated rival and a good showing in a semi-decent bowl game could end a disappointing season on a good note and at least keep the casual fan from calling for heads to roll.  And as you guys go on to the national stage for the SEC Championship game, Clemson fans wouldn’t mind it nearly as much if we have local bragging rights. 

2.  Andre Ellington seems he may play in the upcoming USC game, how important is he to the offense?

It’s hard to say how much a factor Ellington’s playing in this game would be.  We didn’t start using him as a feature back until halfway through the season and then he had one excellent game and two subpar games before being hurt.  I think his play against Miami and Auburn shows he could have a big effect on the game if healthy, but I just don’t know if he’s the same runner right now.  I would love for him to be able to play at that level, because his zone running ability could allow us to have a ground game even if our O-line isn’t winning one-on-one battles.  Also, his kick returns could help an offense that needs every gift yard it can get.  I know Clemson fans would love to see Ellington out there, but this one may be on Harper and McDowell. 

3.  What must Clemson do to beat South Carolina on Saturday? (Give me 3 keys to a win).

Key #1:  Contain Marcus Lattimore.  Spurrier has shown he’s gonna keep giving it to the kid until you can stop him, and not many teams have stopped him.  After watching Clemson’s D-line pick up Florida State’s talented offensive linemen and use them as clubs in the FSU backfield, I don’t think this is an impossible task.  I think our big guys will have to play at their highest level and really blow plays up, because Lattimore has shown that if you give him three unencumbered yards, he’s gonna get six to fifteen before he’s done.  If we can keep Lattimore bottled up without selling out against the run, we’ve taken our first step to an upset. 

Key #2: Protect Parker in the Pocket:  I know much of the criticism of Clemson’s coaches this year has centered on how we have passed too much and run too little, but in this game, I don’t think we’re going to rush our way to victory.  Harper is probably not going to get the kind of holes he needs against the Gamecock front for us to run consistently.  For better or for worse, I think Parker is going to have to make the key plays for us to win.  For that to happen, Clemson’s sack-averse O-line will have to best Carolina’s sack-happy pass rush.  It’ll be interesting to see what gives in that battle.

Key #3: Three keys is kind of tough for a team as enigmatic as Clemson facing a team as tough as SC.  I’m making this a multipart answer.

3a. Make a tough field goal. 
3b. No more flying chest bumps from head coach.
3c. Win turnover battle.
3d. Disciplined QB play.
3e. Remove force field from end zone.
3f. No boneheaded coaching decisions.

That should do it.

4. What is the current feeling towards Dabo given the season?   Does beating USC change this thinking any? 

I think the feeling could be described as “hopeful resignation”.  Fans know that, barring a disaster, Dabo isn’t going anywhere and I think all but the most angry Clemson fan believes Dabo has some leadership qualities and could grow into a good head coach.  Unfortunately, we are now at a point where Dabo’s inexperience is costing us.  He did an excellent job getting Kevin Steele and letting him run his own show, but the offense and the sense of accountability on the team have been a disaster.  The evasiveness on the issue of who’s calling the plays, the fact that the tail often seems to be wagging the dog in the coach-player hierarchy point to a team that is not managed well.  Winning the SC game won’t change any of that, but, like I said earlier, the majority of fans will be happy with a win in this game and Dabo will have a little more leeway to hopefully tighten this operation up.

5.  Predict the outcome of this game. 

Clemson has been absolutely putrid on offense this season, has a completely unreliable kicking game and has shown a tendency to have brain cramps at the worst times.  The Gamecocks have a well-coached team, a dangerous offense and an athletic and playmaking D.  It’s impossible to give the Tigers the edge in this game, even at home.  So I’m gonna say Clemson wins 23-20 on a last-minute TD.  Sorry, I just can’t pick evil over good.

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Two-time grad of THE University of South Carolina.