When Dabo Swinney said on Tuesday South Carolina was his team’s only focus, he meant it. And it is easy to see why the Clemson coach said it.
The 24th-ranked Gamecocks are playing with a lot of confidence and playing well at this time of the year compared to the last two. South Carolina comes into Saturday’s annual grudge match with No. 3 Clemson with an 8-3 record, including a 5-3 record in the ACC.
This year is the Gamecock best season since the 2013 squad went 11-2 and finished No. 4 in the Final Associated Press top 25.
“This is a team that’s really played well, and they’ve gotten better as the year has gone on,” Swinney said. “Will [Muschamp] and his staff have done a great job of giving these guys a chance to win each week.
“They’ve had a couple of other games where they were also in a position to win. They’ve been in it…they’ve had a chance to win [every week]. You have to give those guys credit. They’ve been playing hard, smart and with great effort…they’ve done a great job of creating turnovers.”
Carolina is actually one of the best in the country at creating turnovers. So far this year, the Gamecocks have forced 21, and their plus-9 ratio in the turnover margin category ranks No. 13 nationally.
“Defensively, they’re a very impressive group,” Swinney said.
South Carolina is much improved on defense this year, and they are one of the best in the one stat that matters the most … points allowed. The Gamecocks ranked No. 21 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 19.6 points per game.
“Keir Thomas and D.J. Wonnum are very athletic and have made a lot of plays for them,” Swinney said. “[D.J.] Wonnum has run a lot of guys down and has made a lot of plays on the quarterback. It’s a group that is playing with great chemistry and is playing hard.”
However, the critics say Carolina’s improved numbers on defense is a direct result of who they are playing, which is true to a certain extent. Seven of the 10 FBS teams the Gamecocks have played ranked below the top 50 in scoring offense, including three—Tennessee, Florida and Vanderbilt—that rank 105 or below.
However, they have also played three teams ranked in the top 40 and none of those three, including No. 7 Georgia, scored more than 24 points against the Gamecocks.
“They play physical, and they’re very rarely out of position,” Swinney said. “That’s a sign of good coaching. I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen defensively from them.”