South Carolina has been one of few teams to stifle Clemson's high-octane offense over the past four seasons, but defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward knows the Gamecocks aren't guaranteed another dominant performance this time around.
Led by ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd and junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins, No. 6 Clemson averages over 515 total yards and 41.3 points per game this season. The Tigers are peaking heading into the matchup with South Carolina, having won four straight and posted 52 points or more in each of its past three games.
Ward said the Tigers' offense is the same as it's been since Chad Morris took over as Clemson's offensive coordinator in 2011.
"They still do the same plays, they still run the same offense," Ward said. "They changed a little bit about putting the tailback in the pistol (formation) a little more now, but they did that last season also."
Ward noted that with the emergence of junior wide receiver Martavis Bryant this season, Clemson will again enjoy the advantage of having two dynamic receivers. A 6-foot-5, 200-pounder, Bryant has turned the leaf on his early-career struggles to register 782 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season.
"They had two great receivers last year. One's starting in the NFL now," Ward said. "They've still got two great receivers. Bryant has really stepped up his game, and we've got to defend two great guys outside."
The Gamecocks have limited Clemson to 240 yards and 15 points per game in the two meetings since Morris' arrival, but Ward said his defense can't expect the same level of success if they don't execute Saturday night.
"Each year is different," Ward said. "We're playing with different players than we had last year. We've got to go execute. If we execute, we'll have a chance. If we don't, then it could be a long night."
Key to defending Clemson will be containing and pressuring Boyd, Ward said. The senior quarterback passed for 288 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-6 romp of The Citadel last week, and is itching to get his first win over South Carolina in his final regular season game.
South Carolina has been effective pressuring Boyd with just a four-man rush over the past two contests, and Ward said that's how the Gamecocks will attack him this time around.
"If you don't affect him, he's going to put some points up on you, so we'll have to try and affect him," Ward said. "I don't know if we can rattle him, but we definitely want to try to get pressure on him early because he'll pick you apart if you don't."
Spearheading that attack will be junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is familiar with Boyd. Clowney sacked Clemson's quarterback a career-high and Memorial Stadium-record 4 1/2 times in South Carolina's 27-17 win last season, then in July said Boyd is "scared every time we play them."
Ward said Clowney, who was held out of Tuesday's indoor practice but expects to practice tomorrow, will be fired up to play Saturday, but not just because of the circumstances.
"J.D is motivated anyway. He loves to play the game," Ward said. "But I think he'll be really up for this game because it's a state rivalry."
Ward says he anticipates Clemson, like every other team this season, to attack Clowney in a unique way.
"Everybody this year has done something different against Jadeveon, and I guess they will too," Ward said. "A lot of people are putting backs on him, and some teams are putting three people on him. I'm sure Clemson will have a plan for him. And we'll have a plan for them if they have a plan for him."
Defensive end Chaz Sutton, who would enjoy one-on-one matchups if Clemson sends multiple blockers to Clowney's side of the line, is one of four seniors who have experienced each of South Carolina's four wins against the Tigers.
Sutton says he expects Clemson will try to confuse the Gamecocks with misdirection plays and motioning players before the snap, but said it's up to the defensive line to establish themselves up front, play disciplined and lay the foundation for the rest of the defense.
"We've got to come out and hit them in the mouth," Sutton said.
Junior safety Brison Williams was limited in practice today, while junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles practiced fully. Both are expected to play against Clemson.
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