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Gamecocks focused on stopping the Clemson running game

November 21, 2017 GMT

COLUMBIA — As much as they grumbled and apprehensively adjusted to playing Wofford’s offense last week, perhaps it was the best thing for South Carolina.

Fourth-ranked Clemson doesn’t run that triple-option system, but in terms of the Gamecocks staying in their gaps and playing fundamental defensive football, they need to be at their best just as they were against the Terriers.

The Tigers (10-1) can run as well as they can pass, only about 22 yards per game from being perfectly balanced. But like many teams, Clemson wants to run to set up the pass. Tailbacks Travis Etienne (679 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Tavien Feaster (619, 5 TDs) are perfect complements to mobile quarterback Kelly Bryant (613, 10 TDs).

The difference is if Bryant splits a gap, there’s at least a 50 percent shot one of USC’s back seven can chase him down. As for Clemson’s running backs?

Forget it.

“Got to lock in, no hopping out,” USC defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth said. “As soon as you hop out, just a little tad, shooom! They go.”

Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp saw all the film and remembers a tight game the Tigers had with N.C. State two weeks ago. Leading 24-21 in the third quarter, the Tigers were backed up in their end zone and called for Feaster to run up the middle.

The linebacker missed, the safety slipped.

“You got displaced in the last play of the third quarter against N.C. State that goes for about 92, 89 yards or something like that (it was 89),” Muschamp said. “It was a long way, and you’re not going to catch him.”

Wofford was tricky because of the misdirection on the handoff and playing the pitch. Clemson is difficult because of the straight speed and the way its offensive line can bulldoze a path.

How do the Gamecocks stop it?

“You have to stay in your gap and you have to have discipline. We always talk in terms of keeping your head in your gap and understand gap control and disengaging and getting off blocks,” Muschamp said. “They do a really nice job, and obviously when Kelly’s at quarterback, they create an extra gap for you in the run game. Those are all situations you’ve got to be able to always gain an extra hat in the run game and borrow a guy from another side and stunts and things and create some disruption as best you can.”

Stop the run, and force Bryant to throw. The Tigers’ receivers are as talented as ever, especially with Hunter Renfrow, who has been Clemson’s go-to guy on third-down plays. But Bryant’s downfield throws haven’t been that sharp. For a team like USC that feasts on turnovers, that’s where this game can play into its hands.

“We just got to make their quarterback play quarterback throughout the whole game,” Stallworth said.

USC did that with Jacob Fromm against Georgia, mostly limiting the run and forcing Fromm to throw side-to-side. The problem was the Gamecocks’ offense couldn’t do anything against the Bulldogs’ defense, which put USC’s defense back on the field to eventually wear out.