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Paws up, paws down: South Carolina

Paws Up: Capitalizing on South Carolina mistakes:
There is no love lost between the Clemson and South Carolina football teams, and that rivalry was evident on the field on Saturday. Physical play was an inevitability and post-play scrums between players became commonplace. On a certain level, such antics are the foundations of any great rivalry and make for the most competitive and impassioned football games. When taken too far though, that intensity can become a hinderance to a team. This certainly seemed to be the case on Saturday, as the Gamecocks committed eight penalties for a total of 71 yards.
As if the yards themselves weren’t bad enough, the sequences that they would come in completely shut down the Gamecock’s momentum. On one drive in the second quarter, with the Tigers leading by only seven, Kelly Bryant completed a 24-yard pass to Tee Higgins on third and 10. Had Bryant not completed that throw however, the Tigers would have still advanced for a first down, as a holding penalty had been assessed to linebacker Skai Moore. One play later, the Gamecocks committed penalties on consecutive downs, setting up the Clemson offense in the red zone, an opportunity that was taken advantage of with a 1-yard touchdown run by Tavien Feaster.
Paws Up: Kelly Bryant’s passing
One of the biggest gripes with Kelly Bryant’s ability as a quarterback this season has been his inability to throw the ball downfield. He has always been a gifted runner and has relied on that ability to a fault when he comes under pressure. On Saturday, though, it seemed like Kelly Bryant took a major step towards becoming a true dual-threat nightmare.
Where Bryant had previously seemed inclined to scramble at even the sight of a collapsing pocket, the QB seemed calm and collected on Saturday and demonstrated more patience and diligence than in any game previously. During the second quarter, Bryant delivered a beautifully lobbed pass to Tee Higgins for a gain of 40 yards. Later on that same drive, Bryant delivered a touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow on a play that was reminiscent of the final play of the College Football Championship. Bryant rolled to his right with the ball primed high next to his ear while Renfrow ran parallel to the goal line. After gaining a few extra seconds of separation with his feet, Bryant delivered a quick strike across his body into Renfrow’s hands.
It might not seem like much of a big deal to have Bryant trade some of his runs for passes, but the effect it has on opposing defenses is becoming clearer by the game. Bryant still has his moments on his feet, combining that unteachable athleticism with a keen eye for evading defenses. Now though, it seems like Bryant can simply take his pick as to how he wants to beat you. He is peaking at exactly the right time and giving full meaning to the phrase “dual-threat.”
Paws Down: Pass rush
There aren’t many things to criticize about the Tigers’ perforamance on Saturday. The Clemson defense played well throughout the game, holding South Carolina scoreless through the first three quarters. The only points that South Carolina did manage to generate came in garbage time against non-starters. It may seem like nitpicking to critique the defense that held Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley to a quarterback rating of just 10.6, but the Tiger’s front seven was only able to sack Bentley once. Often, the defensive front would only rush three players and opt to drop eight players back into coverage. The depth at the corner position has been an issue for the team for some time, and injuries to Tre Lamar and Chad Smith left the middle linebacker position looking depleted as well. The offensive line of South Carolina played well, but on the occasions that Bentley was pressured, he reacted by throwing wildly inaccurate passes.
Paws Down: South Carolina student section
During Saturday’s game, a small number of fans in the South Carolina student section embarrassed themselves and their university by throwing bottles and other debris onto the field at Clemson players on multiple occasions. This angered not only the Clemson players and coaching staff, but even the South Carolina players. Having had trash thrown at them from the moment they stepped onto the field, Dabo Swinney became incensed that the referees were not doing more to stop the barrage after a Clemson touchdown in the first quarter resulted in a hail of garbage. Not only was the display rude and disrespectful, but the objects being thrown on the field had the real potential to hit and injure a player from either team. Swinney’s anger at the situation led him to launch a tirade against the referees that resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty,
This was a game between the defending national champions and their most bitter rival. There is a certain level of contentiousness to be expected. The enhanced physicality of the game itself is one thing, and verbal trash talk between players and between fans is a hallmark of any rivalry worth its salt. Every fan wants to make their presence known. They want to make sure that their team feels confident and that the opposing team understands that they are in hostile territory. But this rivalry deserves better than what happened on Saturday. 

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