Stopping Lattimore, Jeffery key for Tigers
CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney and Kevin Steele have extensive experience with Steve Spurrier-led offenses. Clemson's head coach first watched the Fun 'n Gun, perhaps longingly, as a wide receiver on the sidelines at run-first Alabama. Swinney later watched Spurrier's schemes, which were cutting edge in the 1990s, as a coach with the Crimson Tide and later at Clemson.
"I've always liked (Spurrier's) style of play," Swinney said. "He's been doing a lot of the same things since 1988, it's amazing to me … screens, draws, curl-flats."
Steele, Clemson's defensive coordinator, has coached against Spurrier at Alabama and Clemson. After years of observing the Old Ball Coach, Steele and Swinney summarize Spurrier's philosophy in similar fashion: Spurrier explores what his skill players do well, looks for mismatches, and attacks them often. The question is whether familiarity will result in success for Clemson at 7 p.m. Saturday.
"Most teams you play, when you look at a formation or running play, you'll see it in the breakdown 6, 8, 10 or 12 times," Steele said. "(Spurrier's) lead plays in both lead personnel groups are in there 36, 37, 38 times, so it's three or four more times more than other teams.
"He's the master. I don't know that anyone over the long haul in the South has done it any better."
USC can repeat plays often with stars like running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
It's conceivable the Tigers could see Lattimore carry the ball 36, 37 or 38 times. After all, Lattimore rushed 40 times for 212 yards at Florida and 37 times for 182 yards against Georgia earlier this season. It's a rare workload for a true freshman tailback, bur Lattimore has shown rare vision in USC's zone-blocking scheme.
The 6-4, 230-pound Jeffery is routinely targeted 10 or more times per game in game by quarterback Stephen Garcia, averaging seven receptions per game. His size presents a problem for defensive backfields. Clemson's tallest corner is the 6-1 Byron Maxwell, who has been slowed by turf toe. Clemson's top corner, Marcus Gilchrist, is 5-11.
"(Jeffery) is best with the ball in the air," Gilchrist said. "He's not real fast, but he runs good routes and uses his size."
Swinney said perhaps the only change from this Spurrier offense to the Florida-led Spurrier teams is balance -- though some of Spurrier's Florida teams were balanced with backs like Errict Rhett and Fred Taylor.
"This is the best offense we've played," Swinney said of USC. "They present a lot of challenges. They have a bunch of formations, not as many personnel groupings (as Florida State), but a lot of formations. The biggest thing that's different about them is that they've been more balanced."
Steele said the key to slowing the Gamecocks is maintaining discipline in the running game. That effort will be aided by a Clemson defensive front four that is playing excellent football, led by Mel Kiper Jr.'s third-rated prospect for the 2011 NFL draft, Da'Quan Bowers.
Clemson's defensive line versus South Carolina's offensive front might be the key to the game.
Clemson is ninth in the nation in scoring defense (16.7 points per game), while South Carolina is 25th in scoring offense (33.6 ppg).
"It just comes down to being in and controlling your gap and winning the one-on-one battles," Steele said. "I've stood on the sidelines where Barry Sanders had 50 yards rushing, but if you don't (have gap control) it could be 200. It comes down to the margin error is less. … If you don't control your gap (Lattimore) is going to find it.
"We have our hands full."
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).