By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — Ever since the week following South Carolina’s third straight victory over Clemson last season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and the Ole’ Ball Coach at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier, have been in a war of words.
But with game week finally here in the Palmetto State, Swinney vs. Spurrier has simmered down, and the focus appears to be back on the game. During his teleconference with the media Sunday, Spurrier said he likes Swinney.
“I think he’s a wonderful guy, and an excellent coach,” Spurrier said. “He’s done a super job up there at Clemson. He and I, and I think our wives, get along very well.”
Swinney sent the same message Sunday evening when he spoke to the media.
“Whenever I’m around him, our relationship has always been very cordial,” the Clemson coach said. “I have a lot of respect for him as a football coach and the success he has had. It is not about me or Coach Spurrier. It’s about the guys playing in the game and that’s where we need to keep the focus.”
That has not been the focus since Spurrier was misattributed on a quote that was written on the South Carolina football program’s official Twitter account. With the words still up there that following Thursday, Swinney went off on the South Carolina program and its history when he was asked about the comments following a practice.
Since then Spurrier and Swinney have spouted off at each other in what Spurrier says is just good ole fun.
“Every now and then, just to keep the rivalry going, I think he and I need to say a little something to stir up emotions here and there,” he said. “But it’ll probably be all about football this week.”
That seems to be the case. Swinney says the Gamecocks (9-2) are the same South Carolina team that has beat the Tigers (10-1) in each of the last three years.
“They are a very talented group,” Swinney said. “This will be as good of a team as we have played. They are right there for sure with Florida State, who is an outstanding team. Their defense is lights out with the type of personnel that they have.
“They can create a lot of pressure. They have a lot of the same guys back from last year that played against us. Obviously, (Marcus) Lattimore is not there, but this quarterback really killed us last year. They have some playmakers outside. We are just now really studying them and breaking them down personnel wise, but I have seen them a couple of times on TV.
“They are outstanding in the return game, and the way we covered the other night, that’s a big concern. So we have our hands full. We are going to have to execute very consistently for four quarters and put it altogether on Saturday night.”
Coming in ranked. This will be the second straight year the Tigers and the Gamecocks will come into the rivalry game, which can be seen next Saturday on ESPN at 7 p.m., nationally ranked.
Clemson is ranked No. 9 in the latest USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll, while the Gamecocks are ranked No. 12. Last year, the Tigers were No. 18 and South Carolina was No. 14 in the polls.
The last time both teams were ranked in back-to-back years entering the game was in the 1987 and 1988 battles. Clemson was ranked No. 8 in 1987 and South Carolina was 12th in what turned out to be a 20-7 South Carolina victory. The next year in Clemson, the No. 15 Tigers beat 25th-ranked South Carolina 29-10.
“This is a rare opportunity,” Swinney said. “This is only the second or third time that both teams are top (12) teams and is playing each other, so this is a great opportunity for the state to showcase this game.”
Only the 2000 game, a 16-14 Clemson victory, was the lone time both squads came into the Palmetto State’s biggest game ranked since the 1988 tilt. The first time the two ever played as nationally ranked teams, was in 1979 when 19th-ranked South Carolina beat the 13th-ranked Tigers, 13-9.
So far, South Carolina is 3-0 at home when both are ranked and Clemson is 2-0 at home.
Healthy bunch of cats. Swinney said only one player is expected to miss Saturday’s game with No. 12 South Carolina. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland is listed as doubtful after injuring his groin during a special teams play in the second half of Saturday’s win over NC State.
Clemson is perhaps entering the annual rivalry game the healthiest it has been in quite some time. Last year, wide receiver Sammy Watkins was not 100 percent with an ankle injury, and starting left tackle Philip Price tried to play on an injured knee, but he left after the first play of the game.
The year before quarterback Kyle Parker was suffering from what turned out to be rib injuries, while running back Andre Ellington was out for the season with a foot issue. Swinney said none of that mattered, South Carolina beat them and there were no excuses.
“All guys kind of get banged up,” he said. “Everybody kind of has bumps and bruises. We are pretty healthy. We have a lot of guys with some aches and pains and stuff, but as a group, we have been pretty blessed there to be able to keep the majority of the guys on the field.
“We have had a couple of guys miss time here or there, but I will say we are in pretty good shape for 11 ballgames in.”