By Will Vandervort
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry is as big as any in the country. And that is definitely true this year.
Clemson moved up two sports to No. 4 in the latest Coaches Poll Sunday and one spot to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll. The Gamecocks moved up two spots as well in both polls and will come in to next Saturday’s game at No. 9 and No. 10 respectively.
It marks the first time in the rivalry’s 111-year history that both schools come into the big game as top 10 foes.
“I think this rivalry is right up there, now,” Swinney said during his weekly teleconference Sunday evening. “It is as big as any in the country. When you look at both programs and the consistency that both programs have had over the last few years, I think it is right there. I really do.
“It has BCS implications and there are not that many out there that are going to bring that to the table. I think everybody will be tuned in to see Clemson-South Carolina for sure.”
The Clemson-South Carolina game will be televised on ESPN2 and will kickoff at 7 p.m. in Columbia next Saturday night.
As big as the rivalry has become on the national scene, it has always been this big back in South Carolina and that, says Swinney, is what makes this game so special. He says you live with it 365 days a year and no matter where he goes people are always telling him he has to beat South Carolina.
“People talk about this game year around,” he said. “Everywhere you go, that’s just the way it is.”
Swinney knows what it is like to beat the Gamecocks, he did it in 2008 when he was the interim coach and it helped him secure the job as head coach at Clemson. But since then, Swinney has not come close to beating USC.
The Gamecocks beat Clemson by 17 points in 2009, 22 in 2010, 21 in 2011 and 10 points in 2012. If you are doing the math that is a 17.5 average margin of victory for the Gamecocks in the last four meetings.
“They all stick with you,” Swinney said. “This is why they call it bragging rights because you have to live with this one. When you are a coach, all the losses you live with. But the big state rival, that one is more so because everyone in your state lives with it. Everybody wants those bragging rights.
“They have done a great job. They have been the better team. They have outplayed us, outcoached us and we have to play to our full potential and that’s what we have not done and we have to get that done.”
To get that done the Tigers’ biggest challenge this week will be to keep quarterback Tajh Boyd upright. The Clemson quarterback has been sacked 11 times in his two starts against South Carolina, including six times last year when USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney recorded four of the six sacks.
This year, the Gamecocks are just as strong up front and will be well rested, too. Clowney along with defensive tackle Kelcey Quarles, sat out Saturday’s win over Coastal Carolina to heal up some old wounds. USC’s front four is considered one of the best in the country.
Clemson will be asking a lot of its offensive line in Columbia, especially left tackle Brandon Thomas and right tackle Isaiah Battle.
“This is a big challenge,” Swinney said. “Clowney is a great player. I don’t care what his numbers says from this year, he is a load to handle. He is as advertised. He is very, very talented. He can be disruptive and you have to have a plan for him.
“I will tell you, their entire front is very good and they have found a bunch of ways to win games. They have grown a bunch of those guys up on defense. Clowney is as good as anybody in the country and those no doubt about that. There is also no doubt we will get the best he has got.”
Blanks out. Swinney said safety Travis Blanks is likely done for the year. He will have more tests done on Monday, but right now it does not look good. The Tigers will start Jayron Kearse in his place. Jadar Johnson, another freshman, will be his backup at free safety.
They believe Blanks has a torn ACL.
Brooks could be done? Swinney said running back Zac Brooks was going to have surgery on his shoulder after the season, but that looks like it might happen sooner now that he re-injured the shoulder in Saturday’s win over The Citadel.
Swinney is not totally sure if they will have Brooks available this week, but he said it is not looking promising.
McCullough at running back? Everyone saw tight end Jay Jay McCullough carry the ball seven straight times for 43 yards to close Saturday’s win. Swinney says that has nothing to do with Brooks’ injury and that it was done by design.
The Tigers have been working McCullough, who played running back in high school, at the position the last couple of weeks. It has been no secret that McCullough has struggled to learn his role at tight end.