The Gamecocks started the day at a 4-2 record, winning at home in the season opener against Texas A&M, 31-20. However, for the second straight game against a team that’s a top-25 team last season, the Gamecocks were unable to put together big offensive performances, as they saw their offense average just 15.7 points per game. Since Clemson has been to the SEC Championship, the Gamecocks have not gone another week without scoring 21 or more points.
The team has already put together one of its best games by far this year coming in the form of a 52-50 win against Miami last Thursday. The game was extremely close, but the Gamecocks managed to pull out a 52-51 win to advance to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2012 when they won the SEC North… The team’s offense did not play well and in the end Clemson led by just a field goal with 4:34 left in the game. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, were led by another stellar performance by tailback Mike Davis who rushed for 110 yards, which is second at the Clemson program this decade, only behind Davis’s 158 yards vs. Florida State last Monday.
Saturday’s loss also brings to an end the careers of the past three Head Coach Charlie Strong, three Quarterback Deondre Francois and one Wide Receiver Brandon Ford. All three had stellar seasons playing behind a defense that not only kept them in games, but also outplayed the opposition in every game. Of the three, Francois had the best regular season and his 4,928 yards is tied with Foster Sawyer for fourth most all-time at the program. However, his average passing yards was the lowest in Clemson’s history, which is hardly surprising after he took the job from Strong in 2014. I know there will be those that do not believe that Francois will ever be as good as Strong was, but his statistical numbers are not indicative of strong-mindedness or talent in the slightest. I believe they are indicative of the coaching staff and the coaching staff only, as there was no offense or skill players that were underwhelming. I am confident that Francois and the Clemson offense will be much improved from this point forward.
However, with all that said, the only reason that the Gamecocks made the SEC Championship Game last season was because of the Tigers winning the 2012 national championship against Auburn, which was the greatest upset in college football. Those losses this season had little to do with one another and came against the most stacked team the Tigers have ever faced, the Clemson defense.
As I mentioned, the key to the Clemson defense is its ability to defend the run and its ability to pressure the quarterback into giving the ball up. As long as they have a good QB on the field, the defense will stop the opposition in its tracks from finding a way to score. The defense has proven, particularly in the past few years, that it can pressure the quarterback from a variety of spots and even from different positions. This can be used to great effect if the quarterback is making tough decisions or has a habit of struggling with his reads. It’s not a coincidence that they’ve won two straight SEC titles with their current duo on offense. By eliminating the run and getting pressure on the quarterback, the Clemson system doesn’t have to rely on that type of success, but can rely on a variety of other types of plays to do its job, which has been lacking for some time.
In addition to this, the defensive line and secondary have each been instrumental in the success of the D this season. Along with it’s ability to put a quarterback on the run - both this season and last year - the defense has been able to wreak havoc on the opposing offense that has struggled to pick up any quick gains to start games. This past week, a couple of sacks forced two fumbles by Clemson’s offense before a pair of interceptions by Clemson’s wide receivers sealed the win. Although I do worry about the passing game, the Tigers should make their presence known on the opposing side of the field and if they do, the ability to pound the ball will be made clear.
When the Clemson offensive offensive line was at its best last season, they were able to force a lot more sacks than they have the last few weeks, which has put tremendous pressure on the quarterback to make reads and make good decisions, as long as they have enough weapons on his side of the field to let those big plays go. A lot will hinge on the success of the quarterback at least part of the time this weekend in large part to the success of the offensive line and secondary.
This is the kind of performance teams like Clemson need every single week of every single season. They need players who can stop the run efficiently and disrupt the passing game