The Streak – Carolina vs. Clemson

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

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History Repeats, but it’s Florida Week

Another week, another two-touchdown lead that the Gamecocks squandered. Frankly, it’s getting a bit frustrating; but that’s Gamecock Football. The Cardiac Cocks, so named after the South Carolina baseball team, have given their share of heart palpitations to the Gamecock faithful in Williams-Brice throughout the season. And it happened again against the Tennessee Volunteers.

The Gamecocks were doing well. The defense were bending but haven’t broke. They contained the new signal caller in Joshua Dobbs and put up an impressive night on offense. Junior RB, Brandon Wilds just ripped off a long TD run and the Gamecocks began to feel “happy” (insert Pharrell Williams voice here). You figure with just under 3 minutes left in the game that it was over. I thought so, too. It had been cold the entire game; from kick-off through 3 and 3/4 quarters, and I walked out of Williams-Brice ┬ábelieving that there was no way the Vols would mount a comeback like that. They say that you should leave history in the past, but as we all know, history is doomed to repeat itself; and it did.

The Vols took over the rest of the game and bent that vulnerable Gamecock defense tying it at the end of regulation, 42-42. Sitting in the parking lot listening to PxP announcers Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs, I was in shock. OT was ahead and the last time the Gamecocks were in a OT game…vs. Tennessee. What happened: lost by 3. The Gamecocks chose defense after winning the toss, which is the common, smart move by most teams. The defense held and only allowed a FG. In the back of my head I thought, “We’ll be fine. We’ve set the record for most yards in a game in school history and we have an excellent FG kicker in Elliot Fry. We’re going to pull this out!”

The Gamecocks suffered back-to-back sacks on the first two plays from scrimmage, putting them in a deep hole and once again, adversity was there; staring the Gamecock coaches, players and fans in the face. Next thing I know, there was FG attempt from Elliot Fry; “It’ll go in…it always goes in. We got this.” The hold was mediocre and the kick completely missed the bright, yellow field goal posts. Another lead, gone. Another could’ve, should’ve won, gone. The Gamecocks were #BackInBlack for majority of the game, but not for the final 3 minutes. The record now stood at 4-5 on the season and a series of speculation centered around the football program. Was this the end of all our success? Would Spurrier retire? But most importantly, would the Gamecocks make it to a bowl game?

Fast forward to today, November 12th. A Bye-Week and short press conferences later, the Gamecocks will travel to Gainesville, Florida to take on the up-start Gators. Florida had just beaten, and I mean BEAT, the SEC-East leading Georgia Bulldogs, 38-20 and put together a two-touchdown win against Vanderbilt. The Gators turned to QB Treon Harris to lead the struggling offense, but it isn’t struggling anymore. Now with a 5-3 record, Will Muschamp may have saved his job, at least till the end of the year. In Muschamp’s weekly presser, he alluded to the team’s success, but knows that they have their hands full against the highly-powered offense of the Gamecocks who are averaging 35.9 ppg and rank 19th in the country in passing yards per game with 294.6.

The Gamecocks are 1-13 against the Gators in The Swamp with their only win coming in 2010, led by freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore; who recently retired from the NFL after two-seasons on the PUP list. In that game, the sensational tailback rushed for 212 yards on 40 attempts and tallying 3 scores. That night, the Gamecocks controlled the clock and pounded the Gators into submission. Spurrier looks to do much of the same against the Gators at “high-noon” (so says the HBC) on Saturday. Yes, the Gamecocks have a plethora of tailbacks to use, but they cannot match the productivity of #21. Mike Davis has not been the same after a number of injuries ending the 2013 season. Brandon Wilds is a tough, downhill, physical runner, but he doesn’t get enough carries. Shon Carson, well, has been wishy-washy to say the least and I’m sure David Williams is just waiting for his turn. With Dylan Thompson throwing all-over the field, torching up SEC defenses, and Mr. Do-It-All Pharoh Cooper, why wouldn’t you use the “Fun N’ Gun?” It seems to me like the Gamecocks will look to control the clock, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Gamecocks air it out Saturday afternoon in The Swamp against an average Gator defense.

The line is set at 6.5 in favor of the Gators. The last time the Gators and Gamecocks played in Gainesville, the Gators capitalized off early turnovers made by the Gamecocks, winning convincingly, 33-11. Crazy things happen down in Florida when Steve Spurrier comes to town and it should be no different.

My prediction: Gamecocks – 42 Gators – 38.

If Carolina wins, they will be in prime position to make it to a bowl game with the South Alabama Jaguars coming into Columbia the following week.

If the Gators win, the Gamecocks more than likely, will not be going bowling and will be sitting back wondering if changes need to be made; not only on the field, but in the press box as well.