In May, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley made a comment to Fox Carolina’s Aaron Cheslock that still lingers fresh on the minds of Clemson players heading into this Saturday’s annual rivalry showdown.
Despite the fact his team was mauled by the Tigers during a 56-7 defeat in Death Valley last November, Bentley told Cheslock that Clemson was “not that much better than us or better than us at all.”
Six months later, Clemson players are still fielding questions about Bentley’s statement. And come 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, Bentley will have to answer to his statement, as well — with more than words.
The time is coming for Bentley to put up or shut up. On Saturday, he and the Gamecocks — who vowed to “never again” get beaten in the manner they did last season — will have to try to back up their smack.
Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins was asked about Bentley’s comment on Tuesday. While Wilkins understands where he was coming from, he too knows that Bentley will have no choice but to try to prove what he said.
“If that’s how he feels, that’s how he feels,” Wilkins said. “I understand he has to try to be the leader for his team. Even when things were as bad as they were last year for them going against us, he still has to be a leader regardless.
“So I mean he has a right to his own opinion. He’s going to have to now try to prove that they’re not that much worse than us this year.”
All of the talk is only adding to the anticipation and intensity of what is always a heated rivalry. Emotions are sure to run high on Saturday, and chippiness between the teams is to be expected.
Wilkins said the Tigers will be ready for the trash talk and whatever else happens between the whistles at Williams-Brice.
“The good thing is we have vets on the D-line, so we’ve experienced pretty much everything you can in the course of a college football game,” Wilkins said. “So we’ll just be ready for it. Regardless of what happens, any adversity, any chippiness, any of that, we have to control it and manage it as much as we can and stay focused and play the game.”
Wilkins embraces these types of games and feels like his cohorts on Clemson’s defensive line do too.
“I feel like us, the D-line, we kind of thrive in that area really,” Wilkins said. “Like when teams are trying to get chippy with us, that just makes us play better, and we have fun with that too. We don’t ever take anything personally when guys are getting chippy or talking trash or when they’re trying to bring it. We embrace that, we have fun with it, and we’re not going to back down from anybody from that standpoint.”
Wilkins and the Tigers certainly remember what Bentley said in the spring.
But what will be remembered just as much is the outcome of Saturday’s game.
“It’s the biggest game of the year, and this game is a season of its own,” Wilkins said. “No matter what you do all regular season or even in the postseason, this game always has more meaning to it and holds more weight.
“No matter how good or bad you do all year, everyone remembers what the result of this game is. So it’s definitely really big, means a lot to a lot of people, and we’re going to have to play well Saturday to get a win.”