The South Carolina football team has a tall hill to climb against Clemson.
So what’s the path?
South Carolina’s chances of an upset likely begin at red zone defense and turnovers. The turnovers matter because that’s field position. Each can rob Clemson of a scoring chance or set up the Gamecocks offense well (or in some cases, both).
The red zone thing comes down to this: Clemson’s offense usually moves the ball methodically and South Carolina’s defense tends to give that up. If the Gamecocks win, touchdowns will be at a premium for the home team, so it can’t be handing them out every time the Tigers get close.
There’s a split of opinion on tempo. Slower tends to favor underdogs and matches USC’s identity. Clemson’s lone loss came against one of the fastest teams in the land. But USC isn’t built for all tempo all the time, and there’s a lot of risks with that plan.
More likely, USC takes the lesson of how Syracuse controlled possession and attempts that in its own way.
It’s important to remember that a slower, lower-possession game favors an underdog. That means a few big plays or good breaks have a better chance to swing the game, rather than the deeper team leaning on someone.
To do that, the Gamecocks offense will need a few things.
Some running game would help, maybe not 200 yards on the ground, but enough to keep USC out of second and 8 on every series. That might involve some edge stuff (though Clemson is plenty fast to counter) and almost assuredly has Jake Bentley taking off a time or two.
More rests on Bentley. He’s got to keep the Gamecocks moving, and his line has to give him enough time. The Tigers excel at making short passes hard, but a quarterback really on his game, with some big receivers, can counteract that.
Then the offense will need a few big plays, lobs downfield where a receiver out-jumps someone, or slants where one missed tackle lets a 6-yard gain become 40. Enough to give the offense some breathing room.
Think the upside of what happened against Texas A&M, but with better ball control.
What the Gamecocks need on defense is to not give up anything big.
They can’t let Tavien Feaster or Travis Etienne get 70 yards all at once. They need Kelly Bryant to have one of his off passing days (or force him into that), and can’t let Bryant get loose on scrambles. A lot of that might mean making a tackle, making Clemson line up again and doing the aforementioned red zone work.
So running it back: control pace, make a few big plays, don’t give up big plays, stand tall in the red zone and make your own turnover luck.