South Carolina’s senior class has attained a school-record 36 wins over the past four years, but it will chase another “first” on Saturday when the 13th-ranked Gamecocks square off with rival Clemson at Memorial Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN).
The last graduating class for USC to beat the Tigers four straight years was in 1954.
Both programs are ranked in the top 15 in the country heading into the renewal of one of the nation’s longest continuing series. USC has outscored Clemson 97-37 in the past three meetings en route to the Gamecocks’ first three-game winning streak over the Tigers since 1968-70.
“Certainly, there’s been a little talk about that,” Coach Steve Spurrier said on Sunday during his weekly teleconference. “I think I heard one of the Clemson guys say, ‘I certainly want to beat them before I leave here.’ So, it’s a chance for that. It’s a chance for a 10-win season and the state championship. That’s always a goal of ours every year and that’s probably Clemson’s goal too, to win the state championship.
“It’s a huge game. Maybe one of the biggest games since I’ve been here. We’re going to try to win four in a row. We’ve got some seniors that have never lost to them. Shoot, those guys want to do that. I’m sure they’ve got seniors that say, ‘I want to beat those guys.’ So that should make it a heck of a game.”
A year ago, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney went on a much-publicized rant after the Tigers lost their third in a row to the Gamecocks, mistakenly attributing a quote to Spurrier. However, Spurrier doesn’t expect the ferocity of the rivalry to produce another outburst, as contrived as it might have been, this season.
“I like Dabo. He’s a wonderful guy and an excellent coach,” Spurrier said. “He’s done a super job there at Clemson. He and I, and our wives, get along very well. Every now and then, just to keep the rivalry going, he and I probably need to say a little something to stir up emotions here and there.
“But it will probably be all about football this week.”
Since Spurrier arrived at USC eight seasons ago, he has sought to take a big-picture approach to the Gamecocks’ schedule. Instead of handling the Clemson game differently, he believes in treating every game the same and building up the momentum towards the rivalry game with consistent week-by-week preparation.
“I think we take it less seriously than they used to,” Spurrier said. “They overdid it prior to my coming here. As I’ve said before, when I was hired, there were signs all over the locker room, the dressing room, the coach’s office that said, ‘Beat Clemson.’ They were all over the place.
“My belief is that you don’t talk about one team the entire year. You don’t practice every day and say, ‘We’re going to beat Clemson today.’ No, you practice to try to get better, you play one game at a time and you go from there. That’s just the way I’ve always tried to do it and will continue to do it as long as I’m coaching.”
Now that the rivalry game is here, Spurrier said the Gamecocks will prepare as diligently as they have every week.
“We’ll talk about Clemson this week because this is the week of the game,” Spurrier said. “When this week’s over, we’ll start talking about whoever we’re going to play in the bowl game. We take it seriously, but we don’t talk about beating Clemson all year long anymore the way they did in the past around here.”
Clemson is fourth nationally in scoring offense (44.6 points per game), sixth in total offense (535.6 yards per game) and ninth in passing offense (332 yards per game) after registering a season-high point total in a 62-45 victory over NC State on Saturday.
Clearly, taming the Tigers’ prolific offense will be a huge challenge for the USC defense, which ranks 13th nationally in total defense (310.8 yards per game), fourth in the SEC, and 22nd in passing defense (194.2 ypg).
“Without a doubt, they’ll be the best offensive team we’ve played against,” Spurrier said. “It will be a big challenge for us. But it should be a heck of a game, big crowd, loud, over in Death Valley. Hopefully, we can play a little bit better than the last time we went to the other Death Valley in Louisiana. We’ll see how it all plays out this week.”
USC is Clemson’s second SEC opponent of the season. The Tigers beat Auburn 26-19 in the season-opener in Atlanta, but the quality of that win has diminished significantly as Auburn has struggled in conference play and could finish 0-8 in the SEC, unless it pulls off a massive upset of rival Alabama on Saturday.
“They’re a very good team and hopefully we’re going to play a lot better than we did the last time out, although you’ve got to give Wofford credit for slowing the game down and playing very tough and very well,” Spurrier said.
Defensively, Clemson is ranked 69th nationally in total defense (408 yards per game) and 74th in passing defense (244.9 ypg), and has struggled to stop the pass in the middle of the field for most of the season. However, will USC’s struggling passing game (122 passing yards, four sacks allowed to Wofford) take advantage of Clemson’s flaws in that area?
“Our passing game is a concern,” Spurrier said. “We didn’t protect extremely well at times and we just didn’t throw it down the field very much yesterday. We’ll see how we can improve and go from there. Yesterday’s game turned into a running game (41 rushing attempts) and a ‘throw the ball sideways’ game. That’s what we did most of the day. Hopefully, we can throw some balls down the field this week, somewhere. Just get them out somewhere, is what we hope to be able to do.”
If you have any questions about this feature or wish to discuss it, please visit The Insiders Forum, Gamecock Central’s members-only message board for Gamecock fans.