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Clemson linebackers James Skalski (47) and Dorian O'Daniel (6) team up to tackle Citadel running back Cam Jackson (18) during Saturday's game in Death Valley.

DONNYKNIGHTPHOTOGRAPHY.SMUGMUG.COM

CLEMSON — The Clemson defensive unit has been one of the more dominant squads in college football through the first 11 games of the season.

Ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense (allowing 13.9 points per game), total defense (290.2 yards per game allowed), fewest yards per play (4.38 yards per play) and sacks (first, 3.55 per game), the Tiger defense has emerged as the dominant unit that many around the nation thought it would be.

But all of those numbers will go out the window this week as the Tiger defense prepares to head to Columbia and Williams-Brice Stadium to take on in-state rival the South Carolina Gamecocks in the annual Palmetto Bowl.

“They're aggressive. They will play off and play smart and be in position. They're tackling well,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They've just grown into who they are and they've developed some guys. Now some of those guys are playing really well for them. They're giving them a chance as a staff. They're not all things to all people. You have to be good enough to beat them.

“They're not a huge pressure team, but they will pick their spots and they have been successful when they have. Offensively they've taken care of the ball, created field position and they've created turnovers on defense."

Entering this week’s annual Palmetto Bowl, the Gamecocks rank 88th in scoring offense, 101st in rushing offense, 72nd in passing offense and 104th in total offense.

While those numbers are far from spectacular, the Tigers are not taking anything lightly when it comes to their in-state rival and are not making any excuses about this week being a short week one because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“This is not a short week,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “I think it’s just a normal Thanksgiving. I’ve been doing this for 25 years — it’s like every Thanksgiving week. Whatever amount of time we’ve got is the same amount they have.”

The good news for the Tiger defense heading into this week’s game against a dangerous Gamecock offense is they should be as healthy as they have been since early in the season with the return of some key pieces of the defense this week.

“I think going into this week, we’re really pretty healthy,” Venables said. “I think we’ve developed some depth in our secondary (due to injuries). A few guys have come on and matured up front and at linebacker.

“I spend zero time thinking about when we were last healthy; but these guys that were banged up, getting a couple of weeks off has certainly paid off.”

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Clemson dropped in Tuesday's College Football Playoff rankings, while South Carolina made its first appearance in the poll this season.  See story on B3

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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