Five-bombs and "Never Again" resonate as rivalry game approaches


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Jake Bentley was hit early and often last year
Jake Bentley was hit early and often last year

The countdown clock in the Clemson weight room was reset last night, changing from countdown for The Citadel to this weekend’s state championship in Columbia. The clock knows it’s time to focus on South Carolina, but do the coaches and players?

You better believe it.

The players that were brought into the postgame interview room yesterday said all the right things about Saturday’s win over The Citadel. There was no mention of Miami or the ACC Championship Game. None. When we asked the older players about the rivalry game against South Carolina, the looks in their eyes changed. There weren’t a lot of smiles, more like a grim determination.

During interviews last week, one player told me he’s heard all the stories about how former linebacker Ben Boulware had to be restrained during the trip to Columbia in 2013. The students sitting in the end zone were throwing things at Jake Nicolopulous, who was still recovering from a stroke. The insults might have been the worst things thrown as Nicolopulous – who was recovering from a devastating stroke – made his way to the Clemson sideline. Boulware decided to defend his teammate and friend and was headed into the stands – full uniform and all – when several members of the Clemson staff grabbed him.

In other words, Clemson’s three-game winning streak in the series hasn’t softened Clemson’s resolve. Stories of five-bombs and previous trips to Williams-Brice and “Never Again” continue to resonate around the football complex.

So, what do we expect this weekend?

South Carolina has an 8-3 record, the defense is playing better and the Gamecocks are grinding out wins. Their best win might be the season opener against N.C. State in a game that South Carolina won despite being limited to 31 yards rushing on 21 carries and being outgained 504-246. The Gamecocks capitalized on two big Wolfpack turnovers in earning the upset.

They have wins over Missouri (6-5), Louisiana Tech (5-6), Arkansas (4-7), Tennessee (4-7), Vanderbilt (4-7), and Florida (4-6). Two of those are in the midst of brutal seasons and have already fired their coaches (Tennessee and Florida) and Bret Bielema is on the hot seat at Arkansas. Missouri is playing better lately, and that win looks better than it did when it happened – that loss was the first of five in a row for Mizzou, and the Gamecocks scored 31 points. Mizzou gave up 43 the week before, and in the weeks after the loss to the Gamecocks gave up 35, 51, 40 and 53.

The Gamecocks have played four teams with a winning record (not including FCS foe Wofford) and lost three of those, the lone win coming over the Wolfpack in the opener.

Statistically speaking, the Gamecocks are abysmal offensively and a bit one-dimensional. They are 104th nationally in total offense (Clemson is 26th), 72nd in passing offense and 102nd in rushing offense. They are 88th in scoring offense.

Defensively, they are a little better. The Gamecocks are 43rd nationally in total defense (Clemson is 7th), 40th in run defense and 72nd in pass defense. They are 21st in scoring defense, however, giving up just 19.6 points per game. It is interesting to note that the Gamecocks haven’t faced but one Top 30 offense all season – Missouri – and have faced four offenses ranked 100th or lower.

Offensively, the Gamecocks have faced exactly one defense ranked higher than 38th and that is Georgia (5th).

The early betting lines have Clemson as a 13.5 point favorite. ESPNs FPI says Clemson is three touchdowns better than South Carolina. I tend to think the final score might fall somewhere in the middle of those two. You have to give South Carolina a ton of credit – the schedule hasn’t been tough, but they’ve managed to win the games they were supposed to win and one they weren’t. Clemson’s operating procedure against Power Five teams has been to get up early but fail to step on the throat of their opponent and at some point the score gets a little closer than it should be.

I don’t think the Gamecocks will be able to run effectively – they haven’t on anybody – which means Brent Venables can tee off on the South Carolina offensive line. The Gamecocks allowed 41 sacks last season and have allowed 25 this season, a marked improvement, but still not very good.

If Clemson can limit turnovers and critical mistakes on special teams, this looks like a double-digit win.



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