CLEMSON, S.C. — Moments after Dabo Swinney wrapped up his postgame press conference on the second floor of Memorial Stadium Saturday, Clemson’s staffers were moving forward.
The flat screens which feature a countdown clock to the next opponent had flipped to tick away the 12 days before the Tigers’ visit to N.C. State.
In the offices of staffers, televisions had tuned to the day’s marquee matchup—South Carolina at Georgia.
From that point on, what was a good day likely got a lot better.
One week removed from a 38-35 win over the Bulldogs, Clemson gained some intelligence—and likely some confidence—from Georgia’s win over South Carolina.
Clemson has not beaten South Carolina in its last four tries, which is tied for its longest losing streak in the series. Along with Florida State, Oct. 19, the Tigers’ trip to Columbia, Nov. 30, is one of two major potential stumbling blocks between Clemson and a potential berth in the BCS National Championship.
So what did the Tigers learn from their rivals’ downfall?
Here are three key takeaways from Georgia 41, South Carolina 30:
1. Stay Away from Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina’s standout junior defensive end, the likely top overall pick in next April’s NFL draft, must be accounted for at all times. Clemson knows this well: Clowney set a Memorial Stadium record with 4.5 sacks in USC’s 27-17 win over the Tigers last November.
Georgia always knew where Clowney was, be it on either end of the line or in the middle. Then, the Bulldogs simply ran the play away from his side. Give Clowney a longer distance to pursue and his effectiveness is drastically decreased. The star end had a sack and two tackles for loss, but was largely a non-factor.
South Carolina will have a season’s worth of chess matches with opposing offensive coordinators before Clemson hits town, but the principle is simple: stay away or you’ll pay.
2. Run the Ball
Georgia succeeded Saturday with a balanced offense: 309 yards passing and 227 rushing. The Bulldogs’ talented backfield duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 192 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries; Gurley toted the rock 30 times for 134 yards and a touchdown.
Gurley is a special talent: He showed that much a week earlier against Clemson, rushing for 154 yards. This is not to suggest that Clemson has a tailback of his caliber on the roster, although senior Rod McDowell did rush for a career-high 132 yards against the Bulldogs.
But Georgia controlled the clock (holding the ball for 35:20) and also allowed Aaron Murray to flourish in the pocket—two things that didn’t happen against the Tigers.
Last November, South Carolina held the ball for nearly 40 minutes, playing keep away from Tajh Boyd and Clemson’s potent offense. The Tigers like to play fast, but their best bet for success might be to slow it down a bit and grind out yardage bit by bit.
3. Mix in A Big Play or Two
With 13:55 left Saturday, the Bulldogs defense was reeling a bit. South Carolina tailback Mike Davis’ touchdown cut the lead to 34-30, and the Gamecocks appeared poised to take only their second lead of the game.
Then, Murray seized momentum back for good. He exploited a coverage bust and found Justin Scott-Wesley wide-open, and the flanker sprinted 85 yards for a crucial touchdown.
South Carolina didn’t score again. The Gamecocks feature 12 freshmen and sophomores on their defensive two-deep, including three sophomore starters. It is a work in progress and something that Tajh Boyd and Co. can potentially exploit in November.
Connect with me on Twitter @gc_wallace.