CLEMSON —“There’s real hatred with this rivalry. It means so much to so many people.”
Those words sum up the Clemson-South Carolina game for Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who understands what it is like to be a part of this rivalry.
"When we go to there place, there stadium is full, and when they come to our place, the stadium is full,” Venables said. “It's pretty vile. It makes it fun though.”
However, there is one aspect to the rivalry that is not “fun” for Venables — taking shots at head coach Dabo Swinney.
But it is not the shouting of “Go Cocks” at the games that crosses the line, it is when fans choose to seek out Swinney at youth sporting events and shout “Roll Tide.” That draws the ire of Venables.
“I just hear people being disrespectful to Coach Swinney in little league games and stuff,” Venables said. "If my child was ever disrespectful to anyone like that, we would have some serious problems. But I think it’s allowed in this rivalry, so that’s an example, I guess.”
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When Venables and his defense step foot onto the field Saturday night, they will do so with an understanding that the Gamecocks have nothing to lose and this game is, for all intents and purposes, their Super Bowl. That means Clemson will have to make sure it is prepared and poised.
"Obviously, it's a season of its own. We have a way to get ready just like I'm sure they do, just a very systematic way," he said. "Once you get to game day, that is where you got to have the poise it takes to win. I think there is a probably little more emotion. I think you would be naive to say there is not when you get to game day. Hopefully, our guys understand the poise it takes to play at a high level.”
And play at a high level is exactly what the Tigers will have to do Saturday night, as they face a Gamecock offense that is hitting its stride.
“They’ve got excellent skill, well-coached offense line and (quarterback Jake) Bentley’s really been playing well — particularly the last four or five games,” Venables said. “They’ve had some drops that made some games closer than they needed to be, but he puts the ball where it needs to be.”
Entering this week’s game, the Gamecock offense is averaging 412.1 yards of offense, 32. 8 points per game and boasts two very dangerous weapons in wide receivers Shi Smith and Deebo Samuel — both of whom did not play against the Tigers last season.
“Those are two as good of players as there are in college football,” Venables said. “Both of them are terrific players and are having really good years. They make for a tough matchup for anybody. They are elite playmakers with the football.”