South Carolina is set to take on its rival, Clemson, on Saturday in Columbia. The 5-6 Gamecocks need the win to reach bowl eligibility. But there is more on the line as they prepare for the matchup with the Tigers. Carolina snapped a seven-game losing streak against Clemson in 2022. The Gamecocks may be able to use some surprise difference-makers to take down Clemson and maintain bragging rights in this bitter, in-state rivalry.
Spencer Rattler has been deadly all season for the Gamecocks. He is an accurate passer, he has limited turnovers, and made plays with his legs. But the guy sitting behind Rattler could be one of the surprise difference-makers for the Gamecocks on Saturday. Freshman quarterback LaNorris Sellers is a South Carolina native. He understands this rivalry and undoubtedly looks forward to leaving his stamp on the annual matchup. Last Saturday night against Kentucky, Sellers was used at quarterback to alleviate the lack of depth at running back. He held on to the ball and ran for nine yards on two carries. In addition, he has a 36-yard rushing touchdown on the season and is four of four for two touchdowns throwing the ball.
Sellers and his “Rec Spec” glasses will get the keys to this offense in 2024. However, he has a chance to break the game wide open on Saturday. The freshman is 6’3” and weighs 245 pounds. He’s very accurate in throwing the ball and ran a four-and-a-half-second 40-yard dash. Fans can expect to see him in goal-line situations especially if super-senior running back Dakereon Joyner does not return from injury. Sellers has top-level arm talent, having already completed a 50-yard touchdown through the air this year. That said, Sellers is a threat at multiple levels when he enters the game. Dowell Loggains can be as creative as he wants. If Sellers can surprise Clemson with a big play, it would make a significant difference for the Gamecocks.
The Carolina defense has been a focal point for the fanbase this season. Defensive coordinator Clayton White is on the hot seat, but his defense has given up a total of 20 points in the last two games. The unit switched from a 4-2-5 to a 3-3-5 alignment for most snaps in Week 8 at Texas A&M. The Gamecocks have found success by adding another athletic defender to the field in Bam Martin-Scott. He is quickly climbing the chart as a tackler on this Gamecocks defense and often finds himself around the ball. The top three defensive linemen for South Carolina, T.J Sanders, Tonka Hemingway, and Boogie Huntley, combine for 98 tackles on the year, which is less than linebacker Debo Williams has on his own (102). The defensive front has to do its job to contain the running game of the Tigers.
One of the oldest players on the South Carolina roster, Jordan Strachan, is in his sixth year in college football. He went to Georgia State as a wide receiver in 2018 out of high school. After bulking up and moving to defensive end, “Stretch,” as Strachan is called by teammates, led the nation in sacks for the Panthers in 2020. Strachan has seven tackles for loss in his third season for the Gamecocks, with four sacks and two forced fumbles. Clemson’s leading rusher, Will Shipley, loves to bounce runs outside. He does a great job of reading defensive ends and exposing their mistakes. As the Gamecocks primary edge defender, Strachan needs to set the edge consistently and force Shipley into the teeth of the defense. His impact may not show on the stat sheet, but if Shipley and company have a hard time getting outside, our readers will know to look for number 7 on defense.
There is speculation that the Gamecocks leading receiver from 2022 could make an appearance in the season finale. Juice Wells was poised to have the season that Xavier Legette has been having before an injury during the preseason sidelined him for almost all of 2023. Aside from a few snaps in the first two games and one drive against Georgia in Week 3, Wells has been in street clothes with a broken foot. In his one drive against Georgia, Wells caught two passes and took one of them, a screen, 16 yards to the end zone. Last year at Clemson, Wells caught nine balls for 131 yards and two touchdowns. There are many questions about his health, but the star wideout announced Monday night on X that he is returning in 2024.
If Carolina can pair the 2022 leading receiver with the 2023 leading receiver, Legette, in the season finale, the offensive firepower will significantly increase. Wells’ presence in the game would surprise everyone and serve as one of the difference makers that the Gamecocks need to overcome the challenge of beating the Tigers.
We’ll be back later this week with a full game preview of the Carolina/Clemson rivalry.