COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Clemson and South Carolina have traveled vastly different journeys this season.
The Tigers have now won their last 26 straight games heading into the Palmetto Bowl while the Gamecocks have struggled to find consistency throughout the year. On Saturday, the two programs meet once again to add another chapter to their rivalry, which dates back to 1896, in hopes of accomplishing their respective goal to win the state.
"We're excited about this week," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "As we always say, we have the season and then we have South Carolina. It's literally a goal of its own. It's something we look forward to every single year.”
Clemson has won the last five meetings between the two teams and is looking to continue their winning streak that started last season.
"People ask sometimes what's the hardest thing sometimes about trying to repeat as a national champion. And my answer is that means we've got to go 30-0,’ Swinney said. “I mean, how many teams have been 30-0? That's a hard thing to do. But where we are now... it's not something that's out of the realm of possibility.”
In order to get there, the Tigers will have to beat a South Carolina team desperate to end a long losing streak to their rival and end the season on a positive note.
“I think we're after the fact this is a great rivalry and we need to win the game,” said Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp. “As far as how it affects our season, I'm not totally, that's not something I'm going to focus on with our team. I'm going to focus on the fact that this is a great rivalry and we need to do a better job. And we need to win the game.”
Both teams enter Saturday’s game fresh off a bye week. While the Tigers were able to capture a 52-3 win over Wake Forest two weeks ago, South Carolina has lost three of their last four following their 30-6 setback to Texas A&M two weeks ago. If the Gamecocks are going to come away with a win, they’ll have to find a way to put a bunch of points on the board while limiting the Clemson offense. This year, Carolina is averaging just over 24 points per game. However, injuries throughout the year have hampered the Gamecocks and their ability to define themselves on that side of the ball.
"They are doing a lot of different things on offense,” Swinney said, “and that creates a strain on you because it's really kind of hard to know what their identity is, because I think they've had to find ways from week to week as they've had some injuries and things like that to move the ball. They've done some quarterback run-game things, trick plays, little bit of everything... a lot of empty, formations, shifts. For us, we've got to line up well, something we didn't really do well last year against South Carolina."
Among those injured is senior wide receiver Bryan Edwards. The Gamecocks’ all-time leader in reception and receiving yards suffered a knee injury against Appalachian State and did not play against the Aggies. This week, he’s been listed as questionable, but his presence will make a huge difference on the Gamecocks.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are fourth in the country in scoring offense, putting up close to 46 points per game. Led by sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Clemson has scored 50 or more points in the last four games.
“He's completing right at 70% of his passes,” Muschamp said of Lawrence. “You know, a guy that can obviously hurt you with his legs. He's a really good athlete. They use some of the zone read and some of the designed quarterback runs, but elite arm talent. Can make all the throws. Just really impressed watching him and a really competitive guy when you turn the tape on.”
In the backfield with Lawrence is Travis Etienne. The junior running back is among the top 10 rushers in the nation with 1,335 yards and 14 touchdowns. With a stable of talented wide receivers lining up for Clemson, the Tigers present arguably the toughest challenge for the Carolina defense this year.
Defensively, Clemson is as stingy as they come. The Tigers are second in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering 10.7 points per game. The Tigers are led by Isaiah Simmons on that side of the ball. He had 74 tackles and a team-high 12 tackles for loss and six sacks. In the secondary, Tanner Muse (who is the brother of injured tight end, Nick Muse) has four interceptions this year.
“They’ve had some inconsistencies upfront, whether injuries or moving guys around and trying to find the right combination," Swinney said. "And then same thing, injuries on the outside. But they’ve done some good things. And they’re very multiple. They’re well-coached. They’re a very well-coached team. So lining up, being disciplined with our eyes, so we can execute our calls— that’s the biggest thing because they are so multiple.”
South Carolina takes on Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium at noon Saturday. The game can be seen on ESPN.