By Will Vandervort.
Cole Stoudt says every time he walks into the meeting room and sees the countdown clock to the South Carolina game he feels a little itch. Well, he will get to scratch it pretty soon.
Last spring, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney placed a countdown clock marking the months, days, hours and seconds until his team got their shot to play the Gamecocks in Death Valley. That will take place at noon next Saturday and will be televised by ESPN.
Players are reminded of the game every time they walk into Clemson’s WestZone for meetings, practices and even dinner.
“You are always like, ‘When is it going to get here? Now the week is here,” said Stoudt following Saturday’s 28-0 win over Georgia State. “We just need to execute the simple things, roll with it and have some fun.”
Swinney calls it a season of its own. It’s understandable why he feels that way. His Tigers have lost to the Gamecocks and Steve Spurrier five years in a row and the locals have been getting restless, despite Clemson’s success with top 10 seasons and beating the likes of LSU and Ohio State in bowl games.
“You kind of have your season and then this is as season of its own, really,” Swinney said. “The South Carolina game, we don’t have to say anything because everywhere we go, that’s all people remind us about all year.
“You live with it. There are other games you might lose throughout the year and people are mad about it in the moment, but you don’t get remind about it at the grocery store, church and all that stuff. But this is the one. When you lose this one, you live with it every day.”
For Swinney, the coaches, the players and the Clemson fans and alumni, they will have all lived with it for 1,825 days by the time next Saturday rolls around.
“These guys are very much aware what is at stake,” Swinney said. “I want to win, but it is not about wanting to win. It’s about preparing and doing the things you have to do in order to win and that is something we have not done the last (five) years. They have been the better team than us and have won it on game day.
“It’s about this week. We are excited about having this opportunity. It only comes once a year. You have to go make the most of your opportunity.”
And will that opportunity include the return of Deshaun Watson at quarterback? Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris say Watson is still day-to-day. Swinney said he hopes to learn about his freshman’s chances of returning against the Gamecocks on Monday, but he said right now they only know it is a day-to-day thing.
“He has to demonstrate that he can do what we need him to do,” Swinney said. “But I can’t answer that today.”
“There are so many unknowns,” the Clemson coach continued. “I thought he looked good the other day, but like I said, it is a day-to-day thing.”
And right now, trying to beat South Carolina has been a five-year thing.