Final thoughts, prediction as South Carolina looks to snap losing streak vs. Clemson

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  • Shane Beamer
    American football player and coach
  • Jason Brown
    American football center

Rivalry week is upon us.

After the COVID-19 pandemic shortchanged us of the South Carolina-Clemson game last fall, the annual contest has returned in earnest.

It’ll be the first time Shane Beamer and Dabo Swinney will face off as head coaches. In much less pressing matters, it will also be my first Palmetto Bowl experience. I can’t wait.

Beamer and the Gamecocks head into this one riding high. Wins over Florida and Auburn in the last three weeks will do that. In what’s nothing short of a minor miracle, South Carolina reached the six-win bowl eligibility threshold for the first time since 2018 with the victory over Auburn.

Speaking with reporters after the win last week, Beamer was noticeably emotional. He paused briefly to fight back tears. He preached how proud of the players he was and how the victory was just the start of what he hoped to achieve during his time in Columbia.

The Gamecocks haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel in their wins over Auburn and Florida, but a few things have clicked. The running game that’s been stagnant for the bulk of the 2021 campaign averaged just over 216 yards rushing in each of those victories.

Senior tailback ZaQuandre White has been at the forefront of South Carolina’s recent offensive pace. White — who leads the team in rushing by almost 100 yards — has recorded 329 yards on 47 carries over the last month. That’s good for an average of seven yards per touch. The former Florida State Seminole also has 111 yards and two touchdowns on just five catches over his last two games.

Quarterback Jason Brown, too, has looked increasingly comfortable guiding the South Carolina offense. Taking over in the wake of Zeb Noland’s bye week surgery, Brown hasn’t looked back.

Brown hasn’t exactly been a world-beater. After all, he hasn’t thrown for more than 195 yards in a game. But for a player who started the season as a third-stringer, he’s largely controlled the offense and been patient in his progressions. He’s completed 40 fo 69 passes for 525 yards and seven touchdowns to just two interceptions in his three starts. That’s exactly what South Carolina needs under center.

With the USC offense finding a semblance of a stride, the defense has had its share of issues with the ground game. Three of South Carolina’s last four opponents have run for 190 or more yards as a team. Missouri running back Tyler Badie eclipsed the 200-yard mark himself. Texas A&M ran for just shy of 300 yards against USC in College Station.

Rushing woes aside, the Gamecocks have held opponents below their season average of 23.7 points allowed per game in two of their last three contests. The lone blemish over that span came at Missouri — though that was aided by a Tigers defensive touchdown.

Clemson heads into Saturday with a host of issues of its own. The Tigers have struggled mightily offensively, though last week’s shootout win over Wake Forest inspired confidence in the Upstate that Swinney’s bunch might find their groove.

Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has fallen well shy of his Heisman-level expectations. Uiagalelei hasn’t thrown for more than 250 yards in a game just once this season and has been held under 200 yards passing seven (!!) times.

The Tigers do boast a pair of talented tailbacks in freshman Will Shipley and Kobe Pace. Both Shipley and Pace have over 530 rushing yards on the season, while Shipley’s nine rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It will have been two coaches, seven years and 2,920 days since South Carolina beat Clemson in the annual Palmetto State clash when the teams meet Saturday.

The Gamecocks have overachieved plenty in 2021 for a team that won a combined six games over the last two seasons. A USC win over Clemson would’ve been unthinkable three months ago. Now, though, Beamer has folks believing.

The first-year head coach told reporters after the Florida win he hoped nights like that would become the norm going forward. The win over Auburn was another evening filled with celebrations.

This season is already a win in itself for Beamer and his staff. Projected to finish second to last in the SEC East and somewhere between three and four wins by most national outlets, the Gamecocks are ahead of schedule in their rebuild.

That’s why when South Carolina loses to Clemson on Saturday, folks should leave their pitchforks at home. USC is going to be fine going forward — it’ll just have a seven-game losing streak against its in-state rivals to deal with next fall.

— Prediction: Clemson 21, South Carolina 10 —

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