Palmetto Bowl; Gamecocks’ Keys to the Upset

Gamecocks' defensive line
File photo. The South Carolina Gamecocks will need to have everything together as they face the defending national champion Clemson Tigers in the Palmetto Bowl Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages)

When coming into a game as the underdog, there are always certain things to look for as keys to the upset. South Carolina will look to pull off a stunner on Saturday against the defending national champion Clemson Tigers in the Palmetto Bowl. The Gamecocks have exceeded expectations in Coach Will Muschamp’s second season in charge. They sit at 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the SEC. Things haven’t always looked pretty this year, but the results have showed success. Now South Carolina has a chance to put a cherry on top of the positive momentum they have built this year. They face the bitter in state rival Clemson Tigers on Saturday, and will look to ruin their playoff chances. It certainly won’t be easy going against the number two team in the nation, but if it happens here some keys to the upset.

Keys To The Upset

If It Ain’t Swaying, We Ain’t Playing

The crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium should be loud and rowdy on Saturday. There is never a shortage of noise when the Gamecocks play. Add to that the intensity of this rivalry and the atmosphere should be electric. The place should be rocking during the 2017 edition of the Palmetto Bowl, and the garnet and black will need to use every advantage the have. South Carolina will need to take advantage of its home crowd. Scoring early and getting a lead will be crucial. If this young team can feed off its crowd’s energy and keep things close, anything is possible.

Hold the Line

In The Gamecocks three losses this year, they have been beaten in the trenches. Against Kentucky they were stopped on 3rd or 4th and short multiple times. Including not being able to score with a 1st and goal inside the three yard line. When injuries hit the offensive line hard a few weeks later, Texas A&M took advantage and had quarterback Jake Bentley running for his life. The Georgia Bulldogs had a clear talent edge and it showed. Now, Clemson comes to town with one of the best defensive fronts in the country. How the Gamecocks hold up at the line of scrimmage will go a long way in determining their chances. South Carolina will need to be able to establish some sort of running game.

The Tiger’s Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins will both be NFL 1st round picks at some point, and they cannot be allowed to spend the game in the Gamecock’s backfield. The pass protection for Bentley has been solid most of the year, and that will need to continue. The Tigers defense thrives on negative plays, and South Carolina will need to avoid third and long situations. The offensive line will need to play its best game of the year for the Gamecocks to have a chance. They will also need to stay committed to the run game, and try to stay as balanced on offense as possible.

Big Plays Available

While the Tiger’s defense has excelled all season, they have given up some big plays. In games against N.C. State, FSU, and Syracuse there were some blown coverage in the secondary that led to big plays in the passing game. Clemson’s defense has been dominant all year, and manufacturing long drives against them is not an easy task. If South Carolina can set up some favorable match-ups, or get a few blown coverage by the Tigers, they have to take advantage. Bentley has shown the ability to find his receivers down field on broken plays. He is deceptively elusive, and on multiple occasions has escaped the pass rush and hooked up with a teammate downfield. He may need to do this few times on Saturday.

The Gamecocks consistency on offense has been an issue all season, and facing this defense won’t make things any easier. Creating chunk yardage plays will be a must, whether they come from broken play and scrambles by Bentley, a defensive miscue by the Tigers, or getting creative in play calling with some trickery. South Carolina will need to capitalize on every opportunity it gets to pick up big yards.

Tackle in Space

Will Muschamp has done a great job developing his defense. They are only allowing 19.6 points per game. If they can keep Clemson around the 20 point mark, they will have a shot. The key to holding the Tiger’s offense in check will be tackling in space. Kelly Bryant is still developing as a passer, but his ability to make plays with his legs is unquestioned. While they do call designed runs for him, a lot of his yardage comes on scrambles. How well the Gamecocks tackle him when he leaves the pocket on pass plays will loom large. Play-makers Ray Ray McCloud and Travis Etienne have also proven to be home run threats when they get the ball. The linebackers and secondary will need to be at their best when tackling in space on Saturday.

Coach Muschamp’s defense has not allowed very many explosive plays this season, and that will need to continue. Clemson doesn’t try to stretch the field vertically nearly as much as they get their guys the ball in space and let them make people miss. Bryant has shown some inconsistencies in the pass game, so forcing the Tigers to make long drives leaves the door open for mistakes.

Break the Record

Speaking of mistakes, turnovers are always among the keys to the upset attempt. The Gamecocks have forced 21 turnovers this year, and have a plus nine in turnover margin. Senior linebacker Skai Moore tied the school’s career interception record with his 14th this past game. His 14 picks is also a SEC record for a linebacker. Breaking the record by getting a pick in teh Palmetto Bowl would be particularly sweet. Even if he isn’t able to break the tie with former Gamecock Bo Davies, they garnet and black will need someone to force some turnovers.

Fumbles or interceptions, the method is not important, but creating extra opportunities and a short filed for their offense is a must for the Carolina defense. Coach Muschamp’s squad has 17 takeaways in their eight wins. Defensive end Dante Sawyer is among the nation’s leaders with five forced fumbles. The Tigers have only committed 11 turnovers on the season.

Bentley’s Best

This may be the biggest of all when talking about keys to the upset. Jake Bentley will need to be at his absolute best this weekend. A big game in the Palmetto bowl can make a player an instant legend here. By most accounts the sophomore has had a solid season, with 2429 yards and 15 touchdowns though the air. Five of his nine interceptions came in a two week span, but for the most part he has protected the ball well. His accuracy early in games has been an issue, so he will need to find a rhythm quick. He needs to get the ball out to Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards and let them make some plays. His legs will also be important.

As mentioned, the Tigers defensive front is used to creating havoc, so Bentley’s ability to escape the pass rush may come up big. Jake has been very good at evading pressure then getting his eyes back downfield to find his receivers. He may also need to gain some yards in the run game to just to keep the Clemson defense honest. When trying to upset a top five team, high level quarterback play will be of the utmost importance.

Palmetto Bowl

No one will pick the Gamecocks to win the Palmetto Bowl this weekend. The Tigers are headed to the ACC Title game, and possibly to the college football playoff. This will be a tall task, and South Carolina need to play its more complete game of the year. Even if they excel in all of the keys to the upset, it won’t guarantee a victory. The Gamecocks will need to be at their best in all three phases, and hope they can be in a close game in the fourth quarter. Rivalry games can be unpredictable, and with an energized home crowd anything can happen.


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