GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 6 Clemson at No. 10 South Carolina ~ 7 p.m., ESPN2
“I’m getting closer.”
Andy Murray wept for the international cameras. The three-word statement summoned nervous laughter from the Centre Crowd court at Wimbledon. The BBC television reporter handed Murray, a Scot, the microphone to address the country that part adores him for what he can do and attacks him for what he can’t.
“Right … I’m going to try this and it’s not going to be easy.” And on the word “easy”, Murray’s voice cracked and he broke down.
About a first-down length away, Roger Federer stood and looked on. He could tell how badly Andy Murray wanted it, how much pressure he put on himself to succeed for the fans who wanted it even more than he did if that were possible.
This was the championship match at Wimbledon 2012.
In the 12 months that followed, Murray won the Olympics (on Centre Court in London), won the U.S. Open in New York City, and then, yes, won Wimbledon in 2013, beating Novak Djokovic in straight sets. Murray exulted with his host nation.
You may think it’s weird a tennis analogy is being used here. It’s not a tennis analogy. It’s a sports analogy.
Tajh Boyd wants this. So badly. It’s telling the fifth-year Clemson quarterback never really referred to South Carolina by name this week, that he was noticeably dialed in and focused during his weekly press conference, a stark contrast from his usual laid-back and light-hearted disposition. That’s good and bad in tandem, depending on how you manage it.
Everything that’s been said about this rivalry seems to come back to the same two principles:
- South Carolina’s got Clemson’s number. Four straight wins proves that.
- South Carolina plays an SEC schedule, toughening the Gamecocks up for this game.
As for the second point, the “S-E-C!” chanters won’t like this, but this game isn’t the ACC vs. the SEC. It’s Clemson vs. South Carolina. The second-best team in one conference against, oh, the fourth- or fifth-best team in a superior conference. Clemson spent this fall beating the ever-loving tar out of ACC teams; South Carolina spent this fall escaping upsets against SEC teams like Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Florida while failing to do so at Tennessee. Finally, Auburn, Georgia and LSU had their crack at Clemson, and those SEC teams came up short in the past 15 months. So that SEC-ACC argument’s just not valid.
So it all comes back to the four-year streak. One potential counterpoint: ask USC about losing four straight to Stanford, then losing Matt Barkley, then losing its head coach. Ask the Trojans how that four-year losing streak turned out on Nov. 16.
Here’s what has changed since past years:
Third-down efficiency, especially on defense. Clemson’s sixth-stingiest in the country, which will be hard for Connor Shaw and Mike Davis to deal with if they don’t pick up solid yardage on first and second down. The Tigers get a stop on third down 80.2 percent of the time when it’s eight or more yard to the sticks.
Turnover margin. Clemson’s plus-10 on the year, primarily because it’s had an interception in every game but one this season after struggling in that category last year. South Carolina’s plus-5. The Gamecocks have won the turnover battle all four of the previous years.
First downs. Both defenses are right next to each other (South Carolina’s allowed 189 first downs, Clemson’s allowed 186), but the Tigers have been much more prolific on offense with Boyd’s firepower and the cast of playmakers around him.
As Ryan Wood points out, time of possession has been aggressively in South Carolina’s favor in recent matchups. That’s because in three of the four USC wins, the Gamecocks had 7 or 8 more first downs than Clemson; in the other one (2010), the Tigers were minus-three in turnovers. The way the Tigers play offense, they don’t much care if they only have the ball for two minutes at a time. They only care that it ends with a kick. And that’s happened more in November than the rest of the year, because the Tigers’ offense is clearly a different bunch than it was in October with the inconsistencies.
How will this go down? South Carolina moves the ball down the field, cranks up a few long gains, produces three touchdowns (maybe even a defensive score) but sputters in the red zone a couple times and settles for field goals. Clemson cobbles together one touchdown in each quarter, and gets the final game-cinching catch by Adam Humphries or sack by Stephone Anthony to pry this 800-pound gorilla off the back of Boyd, Dabo Swinney … and really, every Clemson fan who’s been terrified to trash talk the last four years.
Brenner picks: Clemson 28, South Carolina 27