Clemson has lost four straight games to South Carolina. It is the longest streak without a win against their in-state rivals since going 0-5-1 between 1949 and 1954. It has not been pretty at times during this more recent skid for the Tigers. Clemson has been held to fewer than 20 points in each of the four losses to the Gamecocks and each has loss has come by double digits. This weekend No. 6 Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) hopes to bring an end to this streak of futility against their rivals from the SEC, scoring a major win for the ACC in the process while also boosting the BCS profile. No. 10 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 SEC) is also sniffing around for a BCS spot but could have other things in mind Saturday night when they take the field.
If Clemson is going to pick up a win to improve to 12-1 on the season, they will need Tajh Boyd to have a good game. The senior has thrown for 3,248 yards, 29 touchdowns and has been intercepted seven times. He remains one of the top players in the sport at his position but most casual fans will remember are the losses. The stain from an Orange Bowl blowout at the hands of West Virginia two years ago were beginning to fade this season but then Florida State rolled in to Death Valley and decimated Boyd and the Tigers. Boyd completed 17 of 37 passes for a season-low 156 yards and one touchdown while being intercepted twice. Boyd will once again be thrown under a microscope against South Carolina, a team he has struggled against each of the past three seasons.
In three career games against the Gamecocks, Boyd has completed 32 of 71 attempts (45.0 completion percentage, just one game with more than half of his attempts completed n 2010) for 339 yards (113 passing yards per game), two touchdowns and three interceptions. Is Boyd afraid of South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney? Well, no, but the Gamecocks have held all the tools needed to disrupt a player like Boyd and limit the production of the supporting cast from Clemson. That includes Sammy Watkins, who has been a virtual non-factor in each of the last two meetings (combining for 76 receiving yards). Clemson has the offensive firepower to overcome some of the trends of the past few meetings, but South Carolina could easily have the same sort of defensive success Florida State enjoyed against the Tigers earlier this season.
But do the Gamecocks have the offensive weaponry to blow this one wide open? The answer is both yes and no. South Carolina can take control of this game with their offense. Connor Shaw has been a rock all year long for the Gamecocks. In 11 games this year Shaw has completed 20 touchdown passes to just one interception. He is not likely to make mistakes and that will be key against Clemson. Having Mike Davis, the SEC’s leading rusher, back in the fold will always help as well. Davis had been banged up recently but is getting back on track. Davis will enter the weekend with 1,112 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
One of the biggest problems for Clemson when facing South Carolina has been holding on to the football. The Tigers have had six turnovers in the past three games, while the Gamecocks have lost just one turnover in that span. This season Clemson has a turnover margin of +10, which is on track to be the best margin since having a +13 in 2007.
While South Carolina is battling Clemson for in-state bragging rights for the next year, the focus of fans may be split between what is happening right in front of them and another game taking place roughly 870 miles away in another Columbia. In Columbia, Missouri, about 45 minutes after the Gamecocks and Tigers kick off, the Missouri Tigers will be taking on Texas A&M. If Missouri should win that game the Tigers will move on to face either Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship Game next week. However, if Texas A&M can go on the road and defeat Missouri, then it will be South Carolina making reservations for the SEC Championship game as the top team in the SEC East. To put it simply, it could be a wild night in Columbia, South Carolina.
If Missouri does win, a South Carolina win will keep the Gamecocks in the running for a BCS at-large invite. The same can be said for Clemson as well. The Tigers have already been locked out of the ACC Championship Game with Florida State making a run for the BCS championship game by way of a stop in Charlotte but a win by Clemson would make them a very attractive back-up option out of the ACC for a BCS bowl.
If you have not figured it out yet, there is a lot on the line in this year’s rivalry game between Clemson and South Carolina.