Where were we three weeks ago? South Carolina had just come off another disappointing loss. A loss that had the Gamecocks, once again, up by two scores late in the game. Rumors began circulating about Steve Spurrier’s retirement and if the Gamecocks would even make it to a bowl. Now, the Gamecocks have two consecutive wins over Florida and South Alabama; 26-20 (OT) and 37-12, respectively. Will Muschamp has been dismissed as Florida’s head coach and Spurrier is back to his ole antics of getting under Clemson head coach, Dabo Swinney’s skin. Yes, it’s rivalry week.
The 6-5 South Carolina Gamecocks and the (23) 8-3 Clemson Tigers will renew the annual Palmetto State showdown this Saturday, November 29, at “high noon” inn Clemson. (The rivalry has officially been named, “The Palmetto Bowl.”)
A few questions come up about Saturday’s contest: A big one is Clemson’s QB situation. Freshman sensation Deshaun Watson suffered an LCL sprain against Georgia Tech and no-one has felt it more than the Clemson offense. After Watson’s injury, the Tiger offense has not executed. Former starter Cole Stoudt threw two pick-six’s and the Tigers failed to score a TD, losing to the Yellow Jackets, 28-6. Watson did not play against Georgia State, and although the Tigers won 28-0, the Tigers did not score in the 2nd half of that game. As of November 27th, Watson is listed as day-to-day. If he starts against South Carolina, he will more than likely be limited. Earlier in his weekly press conference, Swinney said that Watson is about 80% and has been practicing this week in a yellow jersey (non-contact). The fact of the matter is, if Watson does play, this Clemson offense is a different monster. If Cole Stoudt is called upon, the Tigers might struggle. The Tigers three loses against Georgia, Florida State and Georgia Tech have all come in games that Stoudt has started and played majority, if not the entire way. The decision is expected to be made around kickoff.
Another question that comes up is if the streak will continue. Gamecock fans and Steve Spurrier have made it clear that the Gamecocks have won five in a row against their rivals from the upstate. The biggest stat in those games has been points allowed by the Carolina defense; 17. The Tigers high-powered offense, under Chad Morris, has only scored 17 points in the last five in the series. The reasoning being is the stingy Carolina defense that has produced multiple NFL talent (Stephon Gilmore, Darian Stewart, Jadeveon Clowney, DJ Swearinger, etc.) Clemson All-Americans like Tajh Boyd, Sammy Dropk…Watkins, Deandre “Nuke” Hopkins and more, have been great during the regular season in those years, but have been shutdown by South Carolina’s defense.
The Gamecocks do not have any big-name talent on defense; sorry Brison Williams. They have struggled majority of the year, with the exception of the Florida and South Alabama games, which really does not say much due to the level of offense they have faced, but don’t tell the Carolina defense that. There’s always extra motivation in rivalry games and the motivation is evident. Senior DT J.T. Surratt is confident, but humble. “I told them, anything you thought about this team, you can forget it. Anybody that loses to somebody five times in a row is definitely going to be prepared, or going to try to do something different.” The Gamecocks secondary is young, but they’ve stepped up the past two weeks and they look to improve on that performance.
This rivalry has been fun the past few years, at least for South Carolina fans. Gamecock QB Dylan Thompson will return to Death Valley in hopes of repeating his 2012 performance. Clemson hopes to repeat, well, their 2008 performance; a game with then-interim head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers winning, 31-14. The game should be exciting and full of offense. The Tigers bring a stout defense, ranking number 1 in the nation. However, the Gamecocks record-setting offense will be the toughest Clemson has faced, with respect to Georgia and Florida State. Like other games, this one will be a high-scoring affair.
My prediction: Gamecocks extend their streak to 6 consecutive games over the Tigers.
Final score: Gamecocks – 31, Clemson – 24