Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's a Cole World: Tigers dismantle Sooners in Orlando

I have a feeling Clemson fans will be talking about this one for a long, long time. The Tigers entered the game last night as the underdog, some having the Sooners as much as 6.5 point favorites. However, from the first few minutes of the game until the final whistle, it was clear who the better team was. The Tigers jumped out to an early 7-0 lead via a 65-yard touchdown pass from Stoudt to Freshman wideout Artavis Scott who went basically untouched all the way to the house on the first play from scimmage and never looked back. Stoudt looked to be the guy we saw early in the first half in Athens and in Boston and Winston-Salem and less, MUCH LESS than the guy we say against Georgia Tech and South Carolina. Cole looked much more comfortable and confident and played at the level he was capable of after a rough senior season. We all knew the game would hang on how he performed and he rose to the occasion (and then some) leading his Tigers to a dominating 40-6 win over Oklahoma. The senior was 26-36 for 319 yards and 3 touchdowns and also rushed for 1 touchdown. Easily the best game of his career in Tigertown and well deserved to a guy that gave his all to this program. Fans across the nation called him every name in the book this year (I had a few choice words at times myself, I'll admit) and he played injured the entire season but finished his career in Clemson with a dominating performance. He felt that his game wasn't a redemption game but rather just his last game and him wanting to go out on top...and that's exactly what the bowl MVP did...playing like a true veteran and leader all night for his team. 

I think its safe to say that it looks like Coach Swinney has made yet another home run decision with his coaching staff in promoting former Tigers Tony Elliot and Jeff Scott to Co-Offensive coordinators and bringing in Brandon Streeter as the new Quarterbacks coach. The offense didn't skip a beat last night and the Tigers came up with some big plays throughout the game to ensure there would be no Sooner comeback. I can't wait to see how this offense looks next year with a healthy Deshaun Watson and a stable of running backs and wide receivers that could play (and start) at many Division 1 schools across the nation. Hats off to Streeter, Elliot, Jeff Scott, Swinney and of course Stoudt for what looked like perfect game prep and execution last night down in Orlando. The future of this offense looks bright and next year should be a lot of fun for Tiger fans especially if we can get put together a solid offensive line. Watson, Gallman, Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Deion Cain, Ray Ray McCloud and more all possibly on the field at once...that is going to be a dangerous offense. Make no mistake about it.

If you are a Clemson fan, last night's defensive performance was probably not that big of a surprise. They have played with their hair on fire all season long and you just knew Coach Venables was going to make sure he brought his A game and best performance against his former team. The defense played lights out last night causing five turnovers including a pick-six by LB Ben Boulware who started the fist half for Stephone Anthony who was suspended the first half for a horrible targeting call in the regular season finale against South Carolina. Boulware was in the backfield early and often last night and will be a solid replacement for Anthony next season. The Tigers held the Sooners to just 275 yards of total offense and off the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter en route to their second worse bowl loss in the Stoops era. Last night was special and I hope Clemson fans took the chance to sit back and appreciate what was unfolding before their eyes. We have the #1 ranked defense and proved it once again last night. From Vic Beasley to Grady Jarrett to Anthony to Mackensie Alexander and I could go on and on about the future NFL talent and leadership of this defense. It is truly remarkable and will go down as among the best to ever take the field at Clemson.

With the win, that makes it four straight seasons with at least 10 wins and three straight bowl wins over Les Miles and LSU, Ohio State and Urban Meyer and now Oklahoma and Bob Stoops. Not too shabby for a little guy from Pelham, Alabama, ehh? Clemson is one of only four other schools who have won 10 plus the past four years. They join Alabama, Oregon and Northern Illinois as the only teams that can make that claim. Many college football fans had the Tigers losing and some losing big last night but it was Oklahoma who ended up being on the wrong side of a woodshed beating. As ESPN's Chris Fowler tweeted "The only preseason top five team not in the playoffs is spending today behind Clemson's woodshed. Wow, Sooners" It was a dominating game from start to finish and after the first few minutes you just got that feeling that it was the Tigers night to shine. Coach Swinney said after the game, "It was our night tonight. We knew it was going to be a tough challenge but we were ready." he said. With the final countdown to signing day closing in, a win like last night can go a long way to sealing the deal with recruits. Guys want to be a part of games like you saw last night and what is to come for this program. Very proud of what this team accomplished in their "rebuilding year". It is very, very nice to not only expect, but consistently have 10 wins seasons. Its definitely something I can get accustomed to moving forward.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year: Bowl Season

So its been a while since I made my last post. I'm currently in the middle of an internship with the local newspaper in my hometown of Seneca, SC and I have been pretty tied down with that and getting into the swing of things. Its been very interesting so far and I've written on about just about everything so far. I've been on assignment for a Christmas play at the local community theater, talked to a veteran about the services of the DAV, covered a few high school basketball games and talked with the organizer of a quilt show being held through the holidays downtown. So I've been forced out of my comfort zone a bit but it has been good and will help make me more versatile. As for this blog, you won't find any play reviews or write-ups about the local school council meeting's debate over whether or not to invest in new school buses. I'll save that for my job at The Journal. Anyways, I'm back today to talk about the bowl season and the inaugural college football playoffs. I think the committee blew it but I'm not in the least but surprised. I knew they were in trouble when I heard Condoleeza Rice was selected to be on the staff to make the decision of who would make it in. Personally, I think there should be eight teams. The Power 5 conference champs each get an automatic bid and then there are three as-large bids after that. Any more teams than that is just too much although you wouldn't see me complaining about more college football to watch throughout December and January. I think eight is just the best number. But that's just my opinion. And hey, its the first year! If you expected the system to be perfect in year one.....I'm not really sure what to say about your intelligence level. It'll take some time, but eventually it will get better. (Strong emphasis on better and not perfect!) For now, lets just enjoy what we have and the fact that we don't let computers decide who the best team is.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl:
South Carolina vs Miami 
Shreveport, Louisiana December 27 @ 3:30 PM

To say it has been a rough past month for the Gamecocks would be an understatement. The tide finally turned in its annual season finale against Clemson as the Tigers took down South Carolina behind a one-legged Deshaun Watson. They were unable to lure in Will Muschamp's services, six recruits have decommited and some have their eyes set on Clemson. Earlier this week we learned that WR Shaq Roland had left the team effective immediately and yesterday Mike Davis confirmed he's headed for the draft a year early. Now they must prepare to get back on the field one last time this season and find a way to slow down another beast of a running back in Duke Johnson who has rushed for 1520 yards this season. It will be curtain call time for Gamecock QB Dylan Thompson and some would say the verdict is still out if Spurrier will actually return in 2015. Both teams enter the game at 6-6 and have had a better seasons but I think this one comes down to South Carolina's defense. Can they find a way to rise up and make some plays for once? Who knows. I really feel like this one is a toss-up but think Johnson gives the Hurricanes the advantage. Miam's Kaaya is not too shabby, either.

The Pick: Miami

Russell Athletic Bowl: #17 Clemson vs Oklahoma
Orlando, Florida December 29 @ 5:30 PM

Can the Tigers find a way to get it done without star QB Deshaun Watson who underwent MRI surgery earlier this month? We know the defense will keep them in the game against pretty much any team in the country but can Cole Stoudt complete passes to his teammates and not the opposing defense? If not, I sure hope the Tigers can run the ball like they did late in the season and against the Gamecocks. The Tigers must get Wayne Gallman involved early and often against an OU defense that is giving up just over 100 yards per game on the ground ranking 10th in the nation. However, they rank near the bottom when it comes to pass defense. If Clemson had Watson in this game I'd say the Tigers would have the advantage but with Stoudt under center that changes the entire outlook and energy of the team. Stoudt has played terrible down the stretch, make no mistake about it. But he has played injured most of the season and did "just enough" in Watson's absence (outside of the Georgia Tech game, of course) to keep the Tigers moving in the right direction. I'm sure he's rested (and ready) to go out on high note in his final game. After suffering late season injuries the Sooners are expected to have RB Samaje Perine, QB Trevor Knight and WR Sterling Shepard back in the fold and they will try to attack Clemson's stout defense. Tigers pull out a close one late in the game with a defensive stand.

The Pick: Clemson

Belk Bowl: #13 Georgia vs #21 Louisville 
Charlotte, North Carolina December 30th @ 6:30 PM

Georgia. The team that at times looked every bit of a team that could make the playoffs. Then at other times found themselves losing to South Carolina and Florida which led to them falling short of the SEC title game yet again. To make matters worse, they also went on to blow it against their rival, Georgia Tech in overtime and will be without the services of Mike Bobo who is now the head guy in charge at Colorado State. I've been hearing the call to fire Bobo on and off the past few seasons...well he's gone now, you got your wish, Dawg fans. You think at some point UGA has gotta make that next step, they've won 9-10 games consistently recently but can't seem to quite knock down the door and win an SEC title. Not sure they will motivated for a Belk Bowl meeting with ACC newcomer, Louisville. The Cards had a pretty decent first year in the conference but had an ugly early season loss to UVA. They will certainly make the Atlantic division race more interesting as they gave both FSU and Clemson a run for their money this year. As for their bowl game, with Gardner on the sidelines with an ACL injury, can either the freshman Reggie Bonnafon step up or will it be Kyle Bolin who led the team to rally and victory over Kentucky in the regular season finale. Huston Mason has turned into a reliable replacement for the departed Aaron Murray and despite not having Gurley for one last hurrah, I think UGA's rushing attack is still probably the best in the nation as a unit.

The Pick: Georgia 

Rose Bowl-Semi Final: #2 Oregon vs #3 Florida State
Pasadena, California January 1st @ 5:30 PM

The first ever playoff game in college football. This year's Heisman trophy winner on one sideline, last year's winner on the other. This should be a good one. In my opinion this matchup is far better than the Ohio State/Bama contest and should be an all out battle to the end. Outside of my Tigers bowl game this one is second on my list of games to watch. The Ducks only loss this season came back in early October to Arizona, a team Oregon beat soundly in the Pac 12 Championship game. They are averaging over 46 points per game and have two top ten victories and two top twenty victories under their belt this season. I'll be the first to say I hate everything about the Seminoles. All that being said, there is something to be said about a guy that has never lost a game as a starter in his collegiate career. You'd think their luck has to run out at some point and I think it will but also just can't quite push myself to pick against them. They find ways to win ball games. Bottom line. I don't like it, but that's just how it is.

The Pick: Florida State

AllState Sugar Bowl-Semi Final: #1 Alabama vs #4 Ohio State
New Orleans, Louisiana January 1st @ 8:00 PM 

It hasn't been a work of art every single week but you gotta tip your hat to Urban Meyer and what he has done with Ohio State this year. First they loss Braxton Miller before the season even started then JT Barrett went down in the Michigan game forcing third string QB Cardale Jones into the spotlight. He responded like a true veteran leading the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship over Wisconsin. However, Alabama is not Wisconsin and he will have a much, much, harder time moving the ball against the Crimson Tide defense. Meyer is a heck of a coach and I'm sure he's eager to make up for last season's trip to the Orange Bowl and pull the upset over Nick Saban. Bama's offense has looked pretty solid this year with Kiffin calling the shots and QB Blake Sims, RB T.J. Yeldon and WR Amari Cooper at his disposal. I see Ohio State keeping this one close early on but Alabama's depth and overall talent wearing down the Buckeye defense and offensive line and taking control in the latter stages of the ball game. Nothing but respect for what Meyer has done this year but I think its time to roll the credits on their 2014 season.

The Pick:  Alabama

***I'll see you guys in the new year with one final prediction for this season as we take a look at the National Championship. Thanks for coming along for the ride in 2014 and keeping me motivated to keep this thing going. Best of wishes for a prosperous and healthy year in 2015! 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Streak Snapped!

Five years of anger, frustration, annoyance and repeatedly hearing chants of "GAME.....COCKS!!" after I walked out of both Death Valley and Williams Brice FINALLY came to an end Saturday afternoon. Deshaun Watson and his host of outstanding freshmen along with the #1 defense in the nation finally got back on the winning side of the Palmetto Bowl, knocking off Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks 35-17. In the process they gave South Carolina their 6th loss on the season and snapped the five game losing streak in the annual rivalry game. Behind yet another impressive defensive performance and a record breaking day from Clemson freshmen Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott and Wayne Gallman, the Tigers ran past Carolina and celebrated their first win in the series since 2008 in exciting and convincing fashion.

"Clemson was better than us.
"They were better than us today. They played better, they coached better...and we got beat. Simple as that. They are a real good team...give those guys credit, they were just better than us, " a clearly frustrated Spurrier told reporters following Saturday's loss which might keep the Gamecocks home for the holidays. It just seemed to be the Tiger's day and turn to get back on the winning side. They came up big time after time on 3rd down holding the Gamecocks to 6-15 on 3rd down and 1-3 on 4th down while also forcing a turnover which was turned into a touchdown for the guys in orange. A switch of roles to what has been the story of this game in the five previous meetings. Dylan Thompson had pressure nearly every snap he dropped back to pass and the defense just played relentless and simply would not be denied Saturday. The coaching staff put together and executed a great game plan and set the tone for a big day for the ACC which went 4-0 against its SEC rivals Saturday.

Watson came up big for his team playing on what we later found out was a torn ACL the entire game. You surely couldn't tell and his teammates did their part to help him out and take the pressure off. Artavis Scott finished the day with 7 receptions for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns, both went for over 50 yards. Wayne Gallman continued to be a force in the running game accounting for 191 yards and 1 touchdown on 7 carries. You can't say enough about the offensive line that paved the way for 491 yards of total offense on the day and didn't give up a single sack on the afternoon. Not sure the last time that could be said about the Tigers. Watson was all smiles after the game "It feels good to be State Champions," he said. Behind the performance of  the freshmen trio of Watson, Gallman and Scott the future looks bright for the Tigers and they could be gearing up to rattle off a little win streak of their own in the rivalry.

Clemson held the Gamecocks to their lowest point total this season...the same offense that dropped 35 against both Georgia at home and on the road at Auburn. It was an all around team effort that led to a dominating outcome and satisfying win to stop the bleeding and nightmares that have haunted the Tigers the past few years. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Tigertown and it was quite the electric atmosphere in a packed-out Death Valley. It wasn't all great news Saturday though. With the ACL injury, Watson will need surgery once the season is over and will be out until Summer Camp however he should be okay to play for the bowl game. He will again have to wear a brace but has been told he can't cause any more damage so as long as he can play through the pain, he should see the field when the Tigers head to their bowl game destination. That location is to be determined but will likely be in Orlando.

In addition, Chad Morris is expected to take the head coaching job at SMU and be officially announced as the new coach sometime Monday according to reports out of Dallas Sunday afternoon. That means that Jeff Scott will likely serve as the offensive coordinator for the bowl game and possibly moving forward. He has been Morris' understudy the past few years and has been prepared to run the system as we all knew that this day was coming. It looks like it has arrived so it will be interesting to see if Dabo looks internally to fill the position or makes it a national search. While Morris will be missed he opens up A LOT of money for the Tigers to go make another home run hire and hopefully keep their top ten ranking recruiting class in-tact. For now its time to enjoy this win and celebrate beating the Gamecocks in dominating fashion...just like the old days. All is right with the world and order has been restored in the state of South Carolina. The Tiger seniors took their final bow in Death Valley and will leave Clemson has one of the winningest classes in program history with a BCS Bowl victory and wins over numerous top 15 teams. Glad to reclaim OUR state. Clemson Football......We. Too. Deep.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Week 14: Rivalry Weekend

It's one of the best weekends of the year. Families are divided, relationships and friendships are put on hold and bragging rights are put on the line as rivals square off Saturday. There is nothing quite like rivalry weekend and the atmosphere at games this weekend is as hostile and heated as ever. Times have changed a bit in a few of the rivalries compared to recent years but quite a few have major playoff/major bowl implications. Arizona and Arizona State will go at it over in Arizona Stadium in Tucson, AZ. Alabama will be seeking revenge from last year's "kick-six: as they host rival Auburn in Tuscaloosa in the Iron Bowl. Florida State welcomes Florida to Doak Campbell for their annual showdown in Tallahassee. Mississippi State will hit the road and head to The Grove to face Ole Miss in one of the biggest games in the rivalry that I can ever remember. Louisville and Kentucky will give it a go in Cardinal Stadium in a battle of SEC vs ACC. Georgia and Georgia Tech will face off down in Athens in what should be an interesting game. Ohio Stadium will be the site of Ohio State and Michigan. And finally, Clemson looks to snap the five game losing streak to Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks as they battle down in Death Valley. Let the madness begin!

Alabama vs Auburn

Revenge will be on the mind of the Crimson Tide as they look for payback from last year's wild finish at Auburn. Alabama only loss this season came to Ole Miss and while they didn't look so great early on this year, they have come on strong at the finish and look about as good as anyone. Amari Cooper is a BOSS and should be in NYC for the Heisman trophy presentation. He's in another league when it comes to wide receivers this year. College Gameday will be on site for this showdown and despite Bama being nearly a 10-point favorite many have marked this one as the game of the weekend. I tend to disagree but I do feel the game might be closer than the experts and guys in Las Vegas are predicting. But hey, what do I know? It should be interesting for sure but I think Alabama wins this one. Of course, I thought the same thing last year also and didn't really give Auburn a chance and we all saw how that turned out. Good thing I'm not much of a gambler.

The Pick: Alabama

Florida @ Florida State

We know now that Will Muschamp will not return as head coach of the Gators so this is the end of his run in Gainesville. Florida has struggled this year and even let South Carolina, a team that has choked in the 4th quarter as of late, get the best of them with the game on the line late in the game two weeks ago. That apparently was the last straw has the news about Muschamp came out the following morning. Nobody really has luck anymore cause Florida State has all of it. They yet again avoided another loss and squeezed past Boston College to improve to 11-0 on the year. I find it hard to believe that Florida is just going to lay down and take it from the Seminoles but even with the craziness of rivalry weekend, I just can't pull myself to thinking Florida could pull the upset. Especially on the road. I do think the Gators play inspired and fight hard for their coach (and dignity) but it won't be enough. Florida State will do what Florida State has done all year and find a way to win the second half. Seminoles win but it once again will be close.

The Pick: Florida State

Mississippi State @ Ole Miss 

Ole Miss has fallen apart right in front of our eyes after looking like a solid playoff contender through the first half the season. However they haven't been able to maintain that success down the stretch and officially knocked themselves from contender to pretender after a 30-0 defeat to the hands of Arkansas. Now they have to regroup and get ready for Mississippi State who is 10-1 and still very much in the playoff conversation with their only loss coming to Alabama two weeks ago in a hard fought game. Despite having to go on the road I think Mississippi State gets the job done. The Rebels have lost three out of the last four with the only win coming against my alma mater, Presbyterian. They seemed to have lost their mojo....or maybe "The Rebels are exactly who we thought they were" and their early season run as come to an end. Rivalry games are weird and it wouldn't shock me if Ole Miss pulls it off..especially considering how wild the SEC has been this year...and college football overall, for that matter. I would love to see it happen to create more playoff chaos but don't think it will nor am I crazy enough to predict it.

The Pick: Mississippi State

Georgia vs Georgia Tech

Both of these Georgia schools have had a solid season and if Arkansas can knock off Missouri giving Georgia the division crown, both will play for a conference championship next weekend. This is an intriguing match-up. You know what you get out of Tech's offense and triple option. Justin Thomas is very athletic and a good fit for Paul Johnson's scheme. Georgia's offense continues to impress and if you missed it the first ten times I said it, Nick Chubb is a bad, bad, dude. I think when its all said and done he'll prove to be better than Gurley and go down in history as one of the greatest to tote the rock for the Bulldogs. Huston Mason has also matured and become a solid game manager. He does what he has to do and makes smart decisions with the football. The defense is molding into what Pruitt is known for and overall Georgia is a pretty good football team. If they can handle business Saturday and sneak their way into the SEC Championship (with a Missouri loss) and somehow take down Alabama, the Dawgs will be right there in the discussion for the playoffs, and rightfully so. As for the Yellow Jackets, I'm still a little suspect about them as a whole. This will be only the second ranked team they have faced this season and its on the road in a hostile environment against your rival. Add in the fact they are going up against a defense that continues to improve and I just don't know how I feel about their chances. All that said, I gotta play it conservative.

The Pick: Georgia 

Featured Game of the Week: 

#21 Clemson (8-3) vs South Carolina (6-5) 
Time: 12 pm Noon
Location: Clemson, SC (Death Valley)
Latest Line: Clemson -6.5
Overall Series Record: Clemson leads 65-42-4 
Last Clemson Win: Nov 29th, 2009 (31-14)
Last South Carolina Win: Nov 30th, 2013 (31-17)

 Players to Watch: 

South Carolina

QB Dylan Thompson
WR Pharoh Cooper
RB Mike Davis
DT JT Surratt


QB Deshaun Watson
RB Tyshon Dye
WR Artavis Scott 
DE Vic Beasley
LB Stephone Anthony



This one is a little tricky depending on who gets the start for the Tigers. South Carolina's offense has been one of the best in school history production wise and is averaging nearly 35 points per game while averaging 280 through the air and 180 on the ground. Mike Davis is a hard running back and not the easiest guy to take down but he's no Gurley or Chubb. Pharoh Cooper has come up big for the Gamecocks down the stretch and is a talented individual with speed and athleticism. Thompson has done well filling in the shoes of what most would say the best QB in school history in Conner Shaw. Any offense ran by Spurrier has to be respected. Bottom line. He knows how to find ways to score and exploit weaknesses. Clemson's offense has been suspect and really depends on who is the quarterback. When Watson is in the offense as a whole looks better and plays at a higher level. He's been running this style offense since he was in high school and has that raw and pure talent. Clemson finally is beginning to have a running game. Wayne Gallman has come up big down the stretch and Tyshon Dye had his coming out party against Georgia State. He is as good as we thought he would be and now that he's healthy and has a full game under his belt, is ready to run loose on the Gamecocks next weekend and moving forward. He's got some moves and speed but size and power as well. He's gonna be a good one. I can only imagine that he'll have some success against this South Carolina defense but the offensive line will have to step up and do their job. I like the possibilities with Watson, Gallman and Dye all in the backfield at the same time.

Advantage: South Carolina

South Carolina has not been the same team defensively that we have grown accustomed to the past few seasons. They rank 95th in the nation in scoring defense giving up about 30 points per game. They've given up at least 30 points five times this season. Clemson is having a great year on defense ranking in the top ten in many defensive categories. They enter Saturday's game coming off another shutout performance and the nations top ranked defense. They lead the pack in total defense, tackles for loss and 3rd down defense. Clemson is stopping opponents for negative yards or no gain on 44% of their plays. They have a solid front backed up by one of the nations best linebacker core. They play even better at home and look to be having fun while they are out there. It won't be fun and games Saturday but I'll tell you what....this defense is the real deal. 

Advantage: Clemson 

Special Teams: 

Never thought I'd live to see the time where Clemson would be winning games with special teams and their defense. After a rough start for Kicker Ammon Lakip, he has made 14 out of his last 15 field goals and is a perfect 34 out of 34 on extra points. Bradley Pinon has done his job all season on kickoffs and pinning the opposition deep on punts. Outside of the Gurley kickoff return in week one, coverage as been solid and expect Ben Boulware's name to be called multiple times before the day is over. He's an animal. Elliot Fry for South Carolina is 46/46 on extra points and 16/20 on field goals. And like Lakip has struggled at times. Most notably against Tennessee at home when he was 0/2 including a extra long FG that would have tied the game in overtime. Lakip missed a few crucial field goals in Athens and Tallahassee earlier in the year. While Humphries had a nightmare-ish performance in Columbia last year he is a solid returner and I'm sure he's eager to come up big this time around. 

Advantage: Even


This is a big one. Steve Spurrier is one of the best to ever walk the sidelines as a coach at the college level. He is genius and knows how to utilize his players and play to their strengths while also exposing the weakness of the defense.We all know the OBC loves to talk and brings his A game when it comes to facing off against his rivals. Lorenzo Ward has had a tough year with his young defense this year that never really seemed to find their groove this year. Dabo has built one of the best overall coaching staffs in the nation with Chad Morris and Brent Venables but is not on the same level as Spurrier. But not many people are. Chad Morris' offense is hit or miss and kind of an all or nothing deal. Either the offense is wheeling and dealing and can't be stopped or simply can't get started at all. Clemson's defense is as good as it has ever been but still has to eliminate giving up the big play.

Advantage: South Carolina 


Can the Tigers end the streak? Will Deshaun Watson play? And he if he does, will he be effective? Can the Tigers avoid the turnovers that have plagued them the past five years? Will the Gamecocks be able to move the ball against the Tigers #1 ranked defense and impressive front seven? Is Chad Morris really leaving? How about Spurrier? So many questions surrounding this game that we just simply do not have the answers to. What we do know is that all signs are showing that Deshaun Watson will indeed play Saturday and the get the start. While I think that is obviously the biggest factor I think there are two other equally important factors. We know South Carolina doesn't have the greatest defense...109th overall to exact. If Clemson can run the ball effectively and get 5 or 6 yards when they keep the ball on the ground I think that will be huge....HUGE!! Wayne Gallman has ran very well here at the end of the season and Tyshon Dye looks like he could be the X-Factor for the Tigers. If those guys can get going early, that will take pressure off Watson including the pressure for him to run as much. Either way, I think this is a game where the Tigers are going to have to weather the storm and grind it out for the win....I don't care who is a quarterback. We know we are going to get the Gamecocks' best effort regardless of how they have played this season. Likewise, Clemson wants this streak to end and the seniors are hungry to go out on top. I think behind our defense that has played well all season long we keep this one close and find a way to get it done in the 4th quarter...where the Gamecocks have not been able to seal the deal this year. Dylan Thompson has shown that he is not the same guy if you can get him moving and put a hand in his face. When that happens he has made some very poor decisions and that could be the difference in what I'm expecting to be a low-scoring affair. Throw into the mix the home field advantage and I just feel that Clemson is due for a win at home to snap the five game losing streak. It won't be pretty, it won't be easy but the Tigers grind it out and find a way in the fourth quarter to hold on for the win. Bring on the hate and SPOT THE BALL!

The Pick: Clemson 23 South Carolina 21

Other Predictions:  

Texas over TCU
Arizona over Arizona State 
Louisville over Kentucky
Ohio State over Michigan 
Baylor over Texas Tech

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Streak

Its one of my favorite times of the year. Thanksgiving is always a big deal at our house and I have the pleasure of living with my grandmother so all the family usually comes here for the holidays. Although it is a little more work for me in helping get everything ready and organized, I enjoy not having to travel and having everyone come to me during the holiday season. Call me selfish but hey....at least I'm honest. We have a family divided and I'll be the first to tell you the past few years have not been fun for me. I'm the biggest Clemson fan in the family and most of my friends will tell you I'm the biggest Tiger fan that they know. Its a title I'm proud of but when it comes to late November, the past five years have been tough. Very tough. And while you can't erase the past five years of being simply outplayed and....well, dominated by the Gamecocks, a win Saturday would take away some of the sting of this drought against South Carolina and bring the trophy back home where it belongs. And silence the trash talk from Columbia.

You can argue who had the better team the past few years but outside of that it, it has been pretty clear that the team that has played better and made fewer mistakes has come out on top. South Carolina is on the bookend of the greatest run in the program's history in which it became a legitimate team in the SEC under Spurrier. While they have improved greatly since the Lou Holtz era, the reason South Carolina has been successful over Clemson has boiled down to turnovers. They have a +12 turnover margin against the Tigers the past few years. They have been opportunistic and made the Tigers pay for their mistakes. Gotta give credit to the Gamecocks but Clemson simply has not played well the past few years against South Carolina and they've paid the price. Outside of turnovers, another big reason for the streak can be accounted to Conner Shaw. His unmatched heart and will to win is rare and his ability to make big plays with his feet, especially on third down, plagued the Tigers chances at getting back on the winning side. 

Even though Dylan Thompson already has a primetime victory in Death Valley under his belt, you have to feel better knowing that Shaw is now out of the equation and your defense is also significantly better than it has been in years. From an offensive standpoint, you also have to love that you won't have to worry about blocking Clowney this year....something you struggled to do while we was wearing the garnet and black.  However, there is one thing that hasn't changed. Steve Spurrier is still the head coach and always seems to bring his best effort when it comes to playing his rival. Looking ahead to this year's game there are a few things that come to mind that the Gamecocks must do in order to escape Death Valley with its 6th straight win in the series and some bowl eligibility insurance as they desperately need that 7th win of the season if they don't want to be home for the holidays. I gave you my keys to victory for the Tigers already so today its time to see what South Carolina needs to do Saturday to get the win. 

Keys to Victory for South Carolina:

1. Get Cooper and Davis Involved
Both Pharoh Cooper and Mike Davis are a little banged up headed into this weekends showdown but both are expected to play and will need to step up big Saturday. Davis has rushed for 888 yards and 9 touchdowns this year averaging about 5 yards per carry. The Gamecocks will need a solid game from him both running the ball, catching it out of the backfield and likely helping in pass protection against Clemson's front seven as well. Pharoh Cooper has been one of the only bright spots when it comes to wide outs this year for Carolina. He leads the team with 58 receptions and 921 yards for 8 touchdowns this season. Cooper will be called upon early and often Saturday if he is able to play and Spurrier will find ways to get the ball in his hands. If these two have a good day at the office, you have to like South Carolina's chances. If not...who will they look to that can carry the load?
2. Quick Start 
In all but two of the Tiger's games (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech) they have forced a three and out on the opponents first possession. Scoring on the opening drive would obviously be huge and help quiet down the crowd, if only for a few moments. If South Carolina can get something going early and even just pick up a few first downs on the first drive and get the defense off balance early, it could pay off later in the game. Keep those chains moving and don't give the crowd any ammunition to turn up the volume. The first few possessions of the game will be full of emotion and adrenaline and it could be the perfect time for Spurrier to catch one of Clemson's defensive backs out of position and torch them for the big play. A quick, positive start on the road could go a long way in a game where points will likely come at a premium.  
3. All Gas, No Breaks
This one builds off of #2. The Gamecocks have been known this year for not only blowing leads but blowing leads late in the game. They've done it three times this year and two of those times came at home. (Missouri/Tennessee) If they get out to a lead against the Tigers they have to finish the job and keep their foot on the gas pedal. They can't afford to start playing conservative and let another game slip away from them and give the Tigers a chance to rally and put together a comeback if they jump ahead. Spurrier made it known against Auburn he isn't afraid to take chances and go for it on fourth down. The HBC rolled the dice on 4th down six times on the road at Auburn and converted on five of the attempts. I'd imagine that we might see some of that again Saturday in Death Valley. Although Clemson is at home and hasn't won in a while, the Gamecocks have their backs against the wall and their post season plans are on life support right now. Expect them to lay it all out on the line. 
4. "3rd Down and Manageable"
This one also builds off of the previous key. Clemson has the nations top ranked 3rd down defense and has had that title for an impressive span throughout this season. So the key will be for Thompson and the offense to get yards on first and second down to make 3rd down much more manageable. 3rd and 3 or 4 is a lot easier than 3rd and 7 or 8. A 12pm kickoff will make it harder for fans to be as..."lively" as they've been the past few meetings in Death Valley which were at night. But trust that it will be a packed house and Clemson fans are going to make it as loud as possible, especially on third and fourth down. People that say crowd noise is overrated obviously have never been to a real stadium. It matters and can make a huge difference in the outcome of a game. Make it easy on yourself if you are the Gamecocks cause the Tiger defense and 86,000 plus aren't going to do you many favors. More productive plays on first down and second down will also help open up the playbook more.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cautious Optimism

Cautious Optimism. That's the name of the game for me this week heading into the annual season finale against the Gamecocks. Its been five years. A long, grueling, frustrating, annoying, head-scratching five years since we've beat our neighbors from Columbia. I've sat through every game until the final whistle with pride and class. Half of my family are Carolina fans, half of my friends are Carolina fans. I'm beyond tired of hearing it...I'm EXHAUSTED of hearing it. Saturday at high noon the Tigers have the opportunity to finally put an end to the streak and get back on the winning side of this rivalry. With any rivalry game you never know what can happen. (see Florida-Georgia earlier this year) That rings even more true this year in my opinion. Its been a season of highs and lows for both Clemson and South Carolina. While the Gamecocks have struggled more down the stretch and enter the game at 6-5, you know they are going to bring their "A" game Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised if they waited until this weekend to play their best game of the season. For Clemson, they are coming off their second shutout of the season and bring the nations #1 defense into the showdown against the Gamecocks. All eyes will be on the Clemson offense though.

Will freshman sensation Deshuan Watson be healthy enough to play and be effective? Or will the Tigers be forced to star senior Cole Stoudt who has struggled this year after losing his starting position and has battled through an injury this season himself. The offense is a night and day difference depending on who is under center. And while we are not sure what to expect from Clemson offensively, we all know how bad the South Carolina defense has been this season. But again, you never know what can happen in a rivalry game. Watson is listed as day-to-day and in all likelihood we will not know who the is starter until Thursday/Friday or even until kickoff on Saturday. I hope its not until the latter. I refuse to believe Spurrier when he says they are preparing the same way no matter who ends up being the starter for the Tigers. Come on, Steve. Come. On. Clemson isn't the only one that has their eyes on a key player on offense hoping he'll be able to play Saturday. Both RB Mike Davis (shoulder sprain/sick) and WR Pharoh Cooper (rib sprain) are expected to be ready but aren't at 100% yet and should be something to keep an eye on during the week to monitor their progress. If either of them were to be sidelined that is a huge break for the Tigers.

All these injuries aside, I'm cautiously optimistic about the game. While I do think its become more of a mental thing for the Tigers against South Carolina there are reasons to believe its the Tigers year to turn it around. For the first time in a while I think the Tigers are actually the better team this year. (especially if a healthy Watson is playing) They have played lights out on defense and should be able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage...something they haven't been able to do the past few years thanks to the likes of Clowney and Quarles. Both of those guys are gone as well as Winningest QB in school history, Conner Shaw. Further, Clemson gets the Gamecocks back at home. Of course, Dylan Thompson is no stranger to Death Valley. In fact, back in 2012 when both Shaw and Lattimore were injured, many thought Clemson was a lock for a win against the Thompson-led Gamecocks. They came to town and left with a 27-17 victory. Nevertheless, playing at home will be a huge advantage. This all comes down to which teams show up. Will it be the South Carolina that opened the season against Texas A&M and blew fourth quarter leads to Missouri, Kentucky, & Tennessee? Or the team that knocked off Georgia early in the season and nearly pulled the upset on the road at Auburn back in late October? How bout Clemson? Will it be the team we saw in Atlanta two weeks ago? Or the team that shutout NC State at home, and held on a goal-line stand to beat Louisville? Who knows. Either way there are some areas of the game where the Tigers will have to rise up and make a statement if they are going to avoid Spurrier's Gamecocks making it an unthinkable six in a row. That being said.....

Keys to Victory for Clemson: 

1. Running Game
If the Tigers are going to be successful they have to establish some balance and not be one dimensional. That means the new found running game needs to be stronger than ever before. With Wayne Gallman and now Tyshon Dye both healthy and in the mix, Clemson must be productive running the football. If Watson is cleared to play than he also must be able to pick up first downs with his feet and get down or out of bounds safely. If the running game picks up that will force South Carolina to start keying in their linebackers and secondary on stopping the run and keep them honest....and that's when you start airing it out and nickle and dime your way down the field and maybe come up with a big play or two from Williams, Scott or Hopper down the field.
2. Turnovers 
This one is a no-brainer but you have to win the turnover battle. The Tigers have committed a total of 15 turnovers in the past five meetings against SC compared to just 3 for the Gamecocks. South Carolina forced 6 turnovers last year in Columbia while committing none of their own. Make no mistake that turnovers will again play a significant role Saturday. Bottom line. I don't have to say anything else about this one. Lets move on.
3. Time of Possession
I think TOP will also be something to watch. If South Carolina can have long, clock eating drives that result in points....watch out. Especially if the Clemson offense is struggling and starts having numerous three-and-outs. It will be of the utmost importance for the offense to be productive. The big play hasn't been there much this year so I suspect that for the most part when it Clemson scores it will be at least on 6-8 play drives. We all saw what happened in Athens when the offense stalled and didn't give the defense  enough time to get a sip of water before they had to be back on the field. Give them time to rest and they will get you the ball back sooner. Help them out, and they'll help you out.
4. Defense 
Lastly, Clemson needs to continue to do what it has done all season. Continue to get pressure and be disruptive in the backfield and line of scrimmage and get off the field on 3rd down. Prove to the Gamecocks that the #1 ranking is legit and make them earn every yard. While Thompson is no Conner Shaw, Spurrier knows what has worked against the Tigers and will find their weak spot and try to exploit it. Getting quick stops and putting the ball back in the hands of the offense as many times as possible will be huge. I expect the Tigers to be quite a fired up group on defense Saturday and ready to play some grown man football against the Gamecocks in what promises to be a physical game. Having a rowdy home crowd behind them will help as well. The key is for everyone to do their job and to avoid giving up the big play. If they can eliminate that, I like their chances defensively of keeping the Gamecocks in check and limiting the points.

Finally, I'm optimistic for one final reason. The last time Clemson beat South Carolina was way back in 2008, on November 29th, in Death Valley, and it was 12 pm kickoff. This year Clemson will square off against the Gamecocks at home...on November 29th....at 12pm. Take it for what its worth. Who knows...maybe'll we'll see a little "cock-a-doodle-doo" again Saturday, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Week 13 Predictions

Week 12 proved to be another great one with quite a few playoff-significant games turning into close finishes. Mississippi State came up short on the road at Alabama falling 25-20 to the Crimson Tide. Florida State continued to do what it does best and rallied from 13 points down at halftime to knock off Miami at home, 30-26. TCU avoided the upset and survived against Kansas, 34-30. Oregon State pulled the shocker over Arizona State crushing the Sun Devils' playoff aspirations, 35-27. Georgia got Gurley back and dominated Auburn 34-7, but loss Gurley yet again as he would go down with an injury in the third quarter which we later learned was a torn ACL. LSU had a hangover from the Alabama game and Arkansas took advantage ending their 17 game SEC losing streak blanking the Tigers 17-0 at home. Northwestern outlasted Notre Dame, 43-40. Clemson couldn't get it done in Atlanta falling to the Paul Johnson's crew, 28-6 and South Carolina gave Spurrier a happy homecoming and escaped the Swamp with a 23-20 overtime victory. This week's menu doesn't look as sexy as the past few weeks but nevertheless there is football on again this weekend. In the ACC, Florida State welcomes Boston College to town, Louisville is on the road at Notre Dame, Duke squares off against rival North Carolina, and Clemson host Georgia State. South Carolina is back at home against South Alabama, while Ole Miss meets Arkansas. Georgia is at home against Charleston Southern, Kansas State is in Morgantown against West Virginia and finally Baylor plays Oklahoma State. Let's take a look!

#3 Florida State vs Boston College

Last week FSU pulled off yet another 2nd half rally, this time on the road, to take care of business against the Miami Hurricanes. For anyone that has watched all season it came as no surprise. They've done it all year long and it just seems as though they are this years' Auburn avoiding disaster week after week. They have now secured the Atlantic division but must keep playing at a high level (and winning) if they want to find themselves in the mix for the playoffs come early December. Boston College is capable of putting up a good fight but I don't think they have what it takes to hang with the Seminoles for four quarters. They simply have too many weapons on both sides of the ball. Winston continues to get the job done and freshman running back Dalvin Cook is becoming a solid option in the back field averaging nearly six yards per carry and has seven touchdowns on the year. I look for him to have another impressive showing this week after having a solid 92 yard performance on just seven carries last week at Miami. I think he is going to be a special player for the Seminoles in the coming years. The Noles are a 19 point favorite and while I'm not sure they cover, they win by double digits.

The Pick: Florida State

#24 Louisville @ Notre Dame

After starting 6-0, the Irish have lost 3 out of their last 4 and can kiss their major bowl aspirations goodbye. In a matter of week's they went from a dark horse playoff contender to unranked. It won't get much easier this week with Louisville coming to town. They won't have to worry about Will Gardner as the former starting Cardinal QB had a season ending knee injury against Boston College back on Nov. 8th and freshmen Reggie Bonnafon has taken over. The Cards still have a top five defense but will have their hands full with the Irish offense that has scored 71 points the past two weeks in losing efforts. It will be interesting to see how they respond after whats been a rough past few weeks. They still have plenty to play for including a 10 win season with a bowl win but will have to get past the #24 Cardinals and the #19 USC Trojans in the next two weeks. I look for Notre Dame to get back on track and take advantage of the opportunity with a freshmen under center for Louisville playing on the road.

The Pick: Notre Dame

South Carolina vs South Alabama

Things are a bit brighter down in the midlands following South Carolina's thrilling overtime victory over Florida last Saturday. The Gamecocks are now 5-5 and in position to win their final three in the regular season and go to a bowl game with the possibility of ending this season on a positive note. Dylan Thompson is on the final leg of his career and closing in on a 3,000 yard passing season. While the defense continues to struggle (105th in scoring defense in the nation) Thompson is playing well and WR Sophomore Pharoh Cooper has emerged as a key player on offense and should end the year with 1,000 yards receiving. South Alabama (6-4) is from the Sun Belt and is coming off a win over Texas State last weekend. Look for the Gamecock seniors to go out in style as they play their final game in Williams Brice Stadium. Spurrier and company get it done easily over the Jaguars and prepare for the showdown next weekend in Death Valley.

The Pick: South Carolina

#22 Clemson vs Georgia State

Despite the questions at quarterback, Clemson is still nearly 41 point favorites to the Georgia State Panthers from the Sun Belt conference. The Panthers are 1-9 and while we've seen first hand that anyone can beat anybody on any given weekend I think the Tigers could put Vic Beasley at QB Saturday and come out on top by at least two touchdowns. This will be a good warm up game before next week's date with South Carolina and give Clemson the opportunity to jump out to an early lead and get some valuable experience for some of the younger guys and backups.  Among those are QB Nick Schuessler who finds himself right in the mix of things now and will likely see significant playing time Saturday despite Stoudt being named the starter. Look for another dominating performance from the Tiger's defense as they look to let some frustration from last week out on the weak and inferior Panthers. If I'm Clemson and win the toss I'm taking the ball and putting it Stoudt's hands right off the bat and hopefully setting the tone for a much better day at the office than he had last week. We shall see but Tigers get it done....no doubt!

The Pick: Clemson 

Other Predictions: 

#12 Kansas State over West Virginia 
#10 Georgia over Charleston Southern
#8 Ole Miss over Arkansas
#7 Baylor over Oklahoma State