By Will Vandervort
Dabo Swinney has given his team a message this week in regards to No. 4 Clemson’s showdown with No. 9 South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
“If you think we are going to walk in there and they are going to give up a 17-game winning streak on senior day very easily, I have some swamp land down in Florida to sell you,” the Clemson coach said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “They are going to fight with everything they got. We are going to get their very best and they are going to get our very best.
“It is going to be an incredibly competitive, passionate hard fought football game that is going to come down to a few plays.”
Those few plays have been the difference in this game the last four years. During their four-game winning streak over Clemson, the Gamecocks have seemingly recorded the big play every time they needed one.
In 2009, they forced a Jamie Harper fumble when it appeared the Tigers were about to go up 14-0. Eric Norwood returned the fumble 14 yards to the South Carolina 40-yard line. The Gamecocks went on to score on the ensuing drive and never gave up the momentum in a 34-17 victory.
In 2010, USC put the game away when Antonio Allen intercepted a Kyle Parker pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown to give the Gamecocks a 26-7 lead with 10:07 to play in the third quarter. From their they cruised to an easy, 29-7, victory.
Clemson had a chance to make a play in 2011, but Sammy Watkins dropped a sure touchdown on the second play of the game. The Gamecocks, however, did drop anything as they rolled to a 34-13 victory by outscoring the Tigers 17-3 in the second half.
“We have definitely been outplayed the last couple of years,” Watkins said. “They have played harder than us. They have been more physical than us. We have to come into this game and do those things that we have not the last few years.”
Last year was a more competitive game than the previous three, but the Clemson defense could not get off the field in the second half. On third down plays Dylan Thompson completed passes to Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington throughout the night. He also ran for a first down on a third-and-19 play late in the fourth quarter that set up a six-yard touchdown pass to Ellington in the back of the end zone with 4:17 to play.
That sealed the win for USC in a 27-17 victory.
“I’m the last guy that needs to be reminded about third-and-19 last year,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “With the backup quarterback, they ran the draw for a critical first down. Yeah, that drives you crazy, but that is why they win.
“They are not Johnny come lately in regards to winning. There has been a recipe for success for them, obviously. It has been difficult for opposing teams to crack the code.”
Clemson (10-1) has not cracked it on offense or defense lately in this series and that’s something that they all know needs to change.
“Trust me, it’s a huge game for everybody,” Swinney said. “Nobody wants it to go to five (straight losses). We need to win the dang game.”