Rivalry week. Maybe the two best words in sports other than game seven.
Saturday night Clemson and USC will write another page in the book of this South Carolina rivalry.
The Gamecocks have won 5 of the last 7 games against Clemson and two of the last three in Death Valley where kickoff will be on ESPN at 7:35 pm on ESPN.
USC (6-5, 3-5 SEC) will be headed to a bowl game in their first year under Will Muschamp after a 2-4 start.
Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) won the ACC Atlantic division after their 35-13 win over Wake Forest to rebound from their 43-42 loss to Pittsburgh. They will play Virginia Tech in the ACC title game on Dec.3 in Orlando.
But how those upcoming games will pan out is unknown because both team’s destinies could change a bit come Sunday.
USC can crush Clemson's hopes of getting back to the national title game with a win and improve their bowl game selection.
It’ll be hard for the Tigers to get into the College Football Playoff as a two loss team. Ohio State or Michigan could get their second loss since they play each other.
Washington is the most likely to benefit from a Clemson loss since they won the Apple Cup over Washington State today.
Wisconsin, Penn State and Oklahoma are on the fringe with two losses as well.
But here’s what USC will need to do to spoil the part and what Clemson needs to execute to keep their quest for a national title alive.
RUN RICO RUN
It is imperative that USC offensive line plays way but more importantly they’ll need open up gaps for running back Rico Dowdle who is coming off a career high 226 rushing yards against Western Carolina.
If the Gamecocks can establish the run and maintain they can keep the ball away from Deshaun Watson and the Tigers, rest their defense, control tempo but make things a little easier for quarterback Jake Bentley.
Dowdle has proven he can carry the load with three games of 21 or more touches.
GET BENTLEY INTO A RHYTHM
Along with the run whether it can be used effectively or not could open the door for Bentley to throw the ball a lot. Quick shot passing plays can be utilized like short run plays and can build Jake’s confidence and the offense can get into a rhythm.
USC tried to do that early in Gainesville but dropped passes ended some promising early drives for the Gamecocks.
They’ll literally need all hands on deck to get the upset on no.4 Clemson.
TACKLE. TACKLE. TACKLE
Will Muschamp and his defensive players have been saying it all week and they’ll need to tackle in order to keep the Clemson the offense in check.
The Gamecocks need to finish at first contact and make tackles in space. Gang tackling will be needed to slow running back Wayne Gallman as he tries to navigated through the guards and tackles.
Sound tackling can help eliminate big plays from getting even bigger which Clemson has done all year at key times.
This brings me to the Clemson side. The Tigers have shown a tendency to ease up on opponents after getting large leads. They’ll need to be focused for a full 60 minutes because USC has a stout defense that hasn’t allowed an opposing offense to score more than 25 points on them all year.
The Gamecock offense can score too. They are averaging 28 points in their last five games.
USC is a young team but they do have players who have won in Death Valley and they will prepare the rest of the underclassmen for this experience. It’s a rivalry game and the Gamecocks have nothing to lose but Clemson should play that way. Aggressive and free. Play to win and not lose.
TAKE CARE OF THE BALL
Deshaun Watson is having a heck of a year for Clemson again as a finalist for the Davey O’Brien award but he’s also thrown the most interceptions he has in a season (13).
He set an ACC record for 580 passing yards and 52 completions against Pitt but also threw three interceptions in the loss.
The Gamecocks lead the SEC in takeaways with 24. You can’t afford to give Bentley and the boys short fields so they can put points and steal momentum.
Keep a look out for these things throughout what should be a terrific Palmetto Bowl.