The Final Breakdown

Tajh Boyd

Clemson and South Carolina week is almost over and that means one thing. It's almost here, finally.

WHAT: No. 11 Clemson vs. No. 12 South Carolina
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (81,500) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 24 (7:15 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 3.5
TV: ESPN

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. CAROLINA FRONT SEVEN
So you want to run between the tackles against South Carolina? Good luck with that one. The Gamecocks are have your typical SEC defensive line. They've got a pair of freaks on the edge in Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor and two big uglies inside at tackle with Byron Jerideau and Kelcy Quarles.


Running lanes could be tough to come by against the nation's No. 16-ranked run defense. (Roy Philpott)
South Carolina is 16th in the country in rushing defense, giving up an average of 116.64 yards per contest.

Aside from the 250-plus yard outbursts from LSU and Wofford, no other opponents have rushed for more than 120 yards against the Gamecocks. Six of South Carolina's 11 opponents this season didn't score a touchdown on the ground.

Running between the tackles has been a bit of an issue this season for Clemson. But Chad Morris has come up with a few creative ways to utilize Andre Ellington, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins closer to the perimeter.

The Tigers are 30th in the country in rushing offense with 203.64 yards per contest. Led by Ellington, who's rushed for 959 yards and eight touchdowns, Clemson's ground game is third in the conference in rushing.

Boyd's improvement as a runner from year one to year two under Morris has made the Clemson offense that much more explosive. He's second on the team with 466 yards and tied for first with Ellington with eight scores.

Roderick McDowell has been a pleasant surprise for the Clemson coaches, who were concerned about the lack of experienced depth behind Ellington. McDowell is third on the team with 377 yards and five touchdowns. His 5.2 yards per carry average is first among the Tigers' backs.

Though South Carolina gets the edge in this matchup, they won't take it easily. Boyd will have a lot to do with that. Since he can move much better than last season, Morris will be able to use Boyd's mobility to counter an aggressive South Carolina defensive line.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. CAROLINA SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
So you want to slow down Clemson's passing attack of Boyd, Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins? Good luck with that one.

Oh, yeah, sprinkle in a mix of Brandon Ford, Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries and you've got the ingredients for a really potent passing attack.


Tajh Boyd's accounted for an ACC-record eight touchdowns last weekend against N.C. State. (Roy Philpott)
Before the season began, there was question as to how potent it could be, because of the offensive line. There were ups and downs through the first 11 games of the season, but the good easily out weighed the bad.

Clemson is 59th in the country in sacks allowed with 1.82. The Tigers haven't allowed a sack since the Duke game. Both Maryland and N.C. State were tops in the ACC in sacks. Neither of the two teams got to Boyd.

If the Dalton Freeman and company can keep Clowney and the rest of the South Carolina pass rushers from sacking Boyd, chances are pretty good that Clemson wins. Check that, chances are really, really good that Clemson wins.

It's strong pass rush. The Gamecocks are averaged just over three sacks per contest.

Not since Florida State has Clemson faced a defensive line this talented. Though the Gamecocks have the best player, the Seminoles' line is deeper and more talented. Boyd was brought down twice in Tallahassee.

South Carolina is 22nd in the country in pass defense. The numbers are so good because, quite frankly, the Gamecocks haven't faced many quality passing attacks -- Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Missouri, LSU, Florida and Wofford aren't very potent through the air.

When they did, opponents shredded them. Tennessee threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Arkansas had 277 yards and two scores. East Carolina put up 333 yards but had four interceptions.

Cornerback Victor Hampton is talented. So is free safety D.J. Swearinger. But there are too many holes in that secondary.

If he has time, Boyd's going to light these guys up like a Christmas tree.

ADVANTAGE:

SOUTH CAROLINA RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Marcus Lattimore's knee injury against Tennessee was a significant loss for the South Carolina offense. Nobody's going to deny that. But losing Connor Shaw could be a more devastating blow to the Gamecocks' offense.

Shaw is second on the team with 339 yards and three touchdowns. Lattimore's backups, Kenny Miles and Mike Davis have scored twice and rushed for 339 and 313 yards, respectively.


Kenny Miles has been effective against Clemson during his Clemson career. (Getty Images)
Over the last five games, Shaw hasn't been very effective as a rusher. Since his 78-yard performance against Georgia, he's rushed for -1, -2, 33, 10 and 18 yards.

With a foot and a shoulder injury, he probably won't be too excited about trying to replicate last year's rushing performance against Clemson.

One good hit from a Tiger defender would make it Dylan Thompson time. And that's not a road Steve Spurrier wants to travel down.

Clemson's defense, which ranks 72nd in the country against the run, has been solid against the run over the last month of the season. N.C. State managed to snap a three-game stretch where Clemson opponents were kept out of the end zone, via the rush.

The improvement against the run can be attributed to play up the middle from Spencer Shuey and the young defensive tackles -- Deshawn Williams, Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson, D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins.

Even if he was healthy, Shaw would have trouble making plays as a scrambler. Last year, and in the previous two, Clemson's defense was a strictly man coverage team. Defensive backs and linebackers were run off by backs, receivers and tight ends, leaving plenty of gaps on the second level.

Now, under Brent Venables, the Tigers are running more zone. That means there will be more eyes on Shaw if/when he's ready to take off.

ADVANTAGE:

SOUTH CAROLINA PASS ATTACK VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Back to Shaw's injuries -- if he has to exit at any point on Saturday, the Gamecocks' passing game is toast.


Vic Beasley has shown consistent improvement this year as a pure pass rusher. (Roy Philpott)
Now that that's out of the way…South Carolina's wide receivers are most short, quick, water bug kind of players. Bruce Ellington, Ace Sanders and Damiere Byrd are all very similar kinds of players. Though they're small, they don't lack explosiveness.

Sanders and Ellington have caught 30 and 31 passes, respectively. Byrd has 12, but he's averaging over 25 yards per reception.

The tight ends are solid, too. Rory Anderson has 13 catches for 264 yards with five scores while Justice Cunningham has 20 catches for 261 yards. Jerrell Adams isn't bad either. He's got four receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Shaw has completed 136 of 202 throws for 1,732 with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Though he's no Mike Glennon, Shaw has to be licking his chops after watching N.C. State throw all over the Clemson secondary. Same goes for the South Carolina tight ends. State's Mario Carter went for over 100 yards and a score.

If Shaw's able to stick around for the entire game, this advantage goes to the Gamecocks.

ADVANTAGE:

SPECIAL TEAMS
Remember watching Tobias Palmer run up and down the field after Clemson continued kicking off to him?


Ace Sanders leads the country in punt return yardage with 333. (Getty Images)
Ellington probably does, and Sanders.

Ellington has 285 yards on kickoff returns. Sanders hasn't returned a kickoff, but he's done plenty with punts, raking first in the country with 333 punt return yards.

Clemson's return game hasn't had much success this season. But neither has South Carolina's kickoff return defense. The Gamecocks are 94th in the country while defending kicks.

Because South Carolina's been more explosive in the return game this season, they'll get the advantage.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 38 South Carolina 28

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