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South Carolina Clemson Football

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, left, speaks with South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp before the start of the 2018 game at Clemson. South Carolina has lost five straight games to Clemson.

Will Muschamp became the first coach to take South Carolina to bowl games in each of his first three seasons.

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Steve Spurrier’s first three Carolina teams were bowl-eligible, but the 2007 squad did not receive a bid following a 6-6 campaign.

The Gamecocks' schedule featured five of the top 10 teams in the preseason, including the projected No. 1, 2 and 3 teams, the returning national champions, three defending conference champions and six opponents that won 10 or more games in 2018.

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In fact, the Gamecocks boasted the most difficult schedule in the nation, according to ESPN. That schedule proved to be more than the Gamecocks could handle, as they enter the regular season finale with a 4-7 record and will not be eligible for a bowl game.

But even though the Gamecocks are not going to a bowl, the embattled Muschamp believes his team will be ready to play against the No. 3-ranked Clemson Tigers.

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“If our guys can’t get excited for this game, then there is something wrong with them,” Muschamp said. “It’s the most important game we play, against Clemson, and our guys understand that. ... We emphasize it all. Our guys understand that playing at South Carolina, you are going to get asked the question, ‘How many times did you beat Clemson?’ and we haven’t done that since I’ve been here. This is the most important game in this state and our guys understand that.”

Gamecocks on offense

Bryan McClendon begins his fourth season in Columbia and his second as the sole offensive coordinator.

McClendon was put in charge of the offense and called the plays for the 2018 Outback Bowl and was later named the full-time offensive coordinator.

In 2018, Carolina averaged 30.1 points, 152.8 yards rushing, 272.8 yards passing and 425.6 total yards per game, the most since 2014. The Gamecocks had a school-record five games of 500 yards or more, including back-to-back games of 600 yards against Chattanooga and Clemson.

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However, this season the Gamecocks have struggled to score.

Entering this week's game, the Gamecocks rank 79th in scoring margin and total offense, 94th in yards per play, 124th in passing yards per attempt, 73rd in rushing yards per game and 99th in average score.

Facing a defense that ranks third in scoring defense, second in total defense and has not allowed a team to gain more than 300 yards this season means the Gamecocks will have to play their best game.

"Brent (Venables) is rolling a lot of guys up front. Different guys at defensive end -- Logan Rudolph, K.J. Henry, a lot of guys we know a lot about that are good football players. Rolling a bunch of linebackers in there who are playing. Isaiah Simmons holds things together for them defensively. He’ll play anywhere from defensive end to safety covering the slot," Muschamp said.

"Both corners, A.J. Terrell and Derion Kendrick, are really good players, cover well outside and get put on an island a lot in order to outnumber you in the box in situations. Both safeties, Tanner Muse and Keveon Wallace, are really good players. They play well. Denzel Washington is a safety for them as well. They’ve got some guys on the back end who have played a lot of football for them. Turner is a good safety for them, his daddy played at Alabama with Coach Swinney. They’ve got a talented group and Brent has done a good job for them."

Gamecocks on defense

Travaris Robinson is currently in his fourth season in Columbia, where he serves as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

The Gamecocks led the SEC and were ranked ninth in the country with 28 turnovers forced, while ranking 25th in points allowed per game at 20.7 in 2017. The Gamecocks held 11 of 13 opponents to fewer points than its season average.

The Gamecock defense also tied for 10th in the nation in turnovers forced with 27 during the 2016 campaign, including 15 interceptions

The 2019 Gamecocks have been mediocre at best on defense, as they currently rank 49th in scoring defense, 58th in total defense, 66th in passing yards allowed and 60th in rushing yards allowed.

"I think they do what they do and that’s what makes them pretty efficient offensively. They have good players, play with a good tempo, they execute,” Muschamp said. “It’s not that they have a vast playbook of different things they do, but generally the good teams you face are good at what they do. They execute and put the ball in space with really good players that are hard to tackle and they do a very effective job of that. I don’t know that there’s been a huge shift as far as who they are and what they do. They have a lot of confidence in Trevor and they should, he’s a good player.”

The line

The Gamecocks will be looking to break a current five-game losing streak to the Tigers. Last season, the Gamecocks suffered a 21-point loss, and Vegas thinks this season will end in a similar fashion for South Carolina.

The Tigers are 24.5 point favorites to extend their streak to six games.

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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. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io

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