Christian Wilkins has played his best in Clemson’s biggest games this year. 17 of the sophomore defensive lineman’s 49 tackles, 5.5 of his 12 tackles for loss and 1.5 of his 3.5 sacks have come in Clemson’s games against Auburn, Louisville and Florida State.
So, Wilkins doesn’t shy away from the pressure and spotlight of contests like those, and he said it won’t be any different tomorrow night when Clemson and South Carolina play in the annual rivalry matchup under the lights of Death Valley.
“I love it,” Wilkins said on Tuesday. “I love these games where it’s just really intense, and I’m a trash talker myself, so I like when other teams are coming at me. It just makes the game more fun, more exciting and just gives you a little more drive to shut ‘em up or something like that.”
Trash talking amongst teams, especially in the trenches, is a regular occurrence. But Wilkins expects a little more of it against the Gamecocks.
“There’ll definitely be a little bit more,” Wilkins said. “I know we get into it a little bit pretty much every game. There was a lot last year, so there will be even more this year.”
Wilkins discussed the rivalry and much more during his interview with the media on Tuesday. An edited transcript follows:
Question: As a native of Springfield, Mass., when did you begin to understand the rivalry and what it means to the whole state?
Wilkins: “I saw a little piece of it when I was getting recruited, how deep the rivalry is. And obviously being here, I got a better appreciation for it and understanding of it, how big the rivalry is and how much fans hate the fans and everything, too. This is a really big game, and I loved playing in it last year. I’m going to be happy to play in the game here this year, too.”
Q: Did you have any rivalries like this in Massachusetts?
Wilkins: “Not quite like it. A little different, but this one’s definitely a big game, a big rivalry, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Q: How important was the defense bouncing back like it did against Wake Forest, especially after the performance against Pitt?
Wilkins: “It was really big. We had a bad taste in our mouths after that Pitt game, obviously, and to go on the road and do what we did, that was good for our defense to bounce back and give us something to work for going into this game.”
Q: Ben Boulware said after the Wake game that he noticed a little bit more of a laid-back attitude from the team heading into the Pitt game. Did you kind of see that, where guys a little more lackadaisical?
Wilkins: “Definitely, just even the night before in the hotel and everything. I felt it, too, that we weren’t as focused as we needed to be or have that same sense of urgency and intensity the night before a game. Just for whatever reason, we were all in a really good mood and kind of lackadaisical, and we got exposed. So, last week we were more focused, and we got the result we wanted.”
Q: Coach (Brent) Venables had a pretty big gash on his nose the other night. He said he got a head butt to your facemask. How did that happen?
Wilkins: “He’s always putting the blame on me for stuff like that (smiling). But it wasn’t even my fault. It was all Cle (Clelin Ferrell). You know how coach V is our scout-team quarterback, and so Clelin was coming off the edge, and I was coming off the other edge in practice. And coach V got in the way, and Clelin couldn’t stop his momentum, so he kind of pushed coach V into me. I tried to move out the way, but it was too late. Coach V was already going down. He hit his face on me on the way down, and yeah, that’s how he got the gash.”
Q: Did he stay out there, blood and all?
Wilkins: “He did. Blood dripping, still taking snaps and everything. He was kind of quiet after that, though (smiling). I don’t ever think he’s ever been hit like that in a practice,so he was a little quiet. We always give him a little rough up, but nothing ever that bad.”
Q: What have you seen from South Carolina’s offense?
Wilkins: “They have some good athletes and everything, too. Just like any other game, we’re going to have to play well and prepare well if we want to win.”
Q: South Carolina has a freshman quarterback (Jake Bentley) who really should be a high school senior this year. What are some of the advantages of going up against that, and do you guys have a different mindset of how you attack a quarterback like that?
Wilkins: “Like you said, just young, so he’s never played in a rivalry game. So, you have certain edges there and just find different ways to try to rattle him and maybe bring pressure and get in his head early.”
Q: How do you get in his head?
Wilkins: “Well in this game, I’ll definitely be trash talking like I said. He’s never played in a game like this or in a rivalry like this. I don’t know him personally, so I don’t know if he’ll be up for the challenge or not, but we’ll definitely try to rattle him early.”
Q: For you and teammates new to this rivalry, what would it mean for some of the younger guys to be able to come through four years here and not lose to South Carolina?
Wilkins: “That’s a goal of mine, and I’m sure that’s a goal of a lot of the other players and young guys, and that’s great. You want to beat those guys every time. You never want to lose to South Carolina.”