COLUMBIA — Connor Shaw watched one hapless rusher tumble past him, stepped up in the pocket, scrambled and found receiver Shaq Roland for a 35-yard touchdown pass on South Carolina’s first possession Saturday.
With that, Clemson week officially began.
The No. 12 Gamecocks wasted no time shredding Coastal Carolina. They scored the first 42 points Saturday — all in the first half — before winning 70-10 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Coastal Carolina entered with an impressive 10-1 record, but the FCS foe couldn’t even resemble a minor speed bump along South Carolina’s path to rivalry week. The Gamecocks (9-2) led 28-0 after the first quarter.
“We had Coastal Carolina outmanned and outsized,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said, citing the obvious. “I’m really proud of our guys, they played well. I didn’t know it was going to end up like this. I didn’t know we were going to end up with 42 at half.”
It wasn’t about the score Saturday, though the Gamecocks dropped 70 points on an opponent for the first time in the Spurrier era. It wasn’t even about the win, though Shaw’s 25th victory made him the all-time winningest quarterback in USC history.
No, Saturday was the final, necessary step before what promises to be one of the biggest rivalry weeks in history.
A top 10 showdown is possible — if not likely — when USC hosts Clemson for a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2. For both teams, there could be BCS bowl game implications. Here are two programs, barely separated by 100 miles, soaring to unprecedented heights.
And they’re on a collision course.
“This game is always going to be a big game,” Shaw said of the rivalry. “It doesn’t matter if we’re 6-5, or whatever. It’s an in-state rivalry game. The fans and players and coaches know how important this game is.”
Clemson didn’t have South Carolina’s full attention Saturday. At least not yet.
Coastal Carolina stood in the way, but an even bigger game was played Saturday night in Oxford, Miss. Missouri beat Ole Miss to keep a one-game lead over the Gamecocks in the SEC East.
Now, USC needs Mizzou to lose at home against Texas A&M next Saturday to clinch a berth in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7.
The SEC East title has been USC’s goal throughout the season. Right now — and for the next seven days — Clemson will be its target.
The Gamecocks have beaten the Tigers four straight times. Both sides are aware of the streak.
“Of course, I’ve never lost to Clemson,” running back Brandon Wilds said. “So I don’t really plan on losing to Clemson.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney doesn’t plan on rolling over and allowing USC to complete its drive for five straight wins without a fight. Several times, he’s said nobody wants to beat South Carolina more than him.
Junior cornerback Victor Hampton raised his eyebrows a bit Saturday.
“To me, I always feel like it’s a problem if your coach wants to win a game more than your players,” Hampton said. “My squad, we’re going out there, and we’re ready to play. Coach is going to coach, but at the end of the day the players got to play.
“We’re going to come out prepared. Our crowd is going to be loud, and I know it’s going to be hard to beat us next week.”
South Carolina players were asked Saturday if they could match Clemson’s motivation. After all, it’s the Tigers seniors who have had to hear about losing the biggest game on their schedule four straight years, not the Gamecocks.
Hampton raised his eyebrows at that, too.
“Does anybody have the stats on Clemson’s and South Carolina’s record?” Hampton asked, standing after his postgame interview underneath Williams-Brice Stadium.
Hampton was informed of what he already knew. Despite USC’s recent domination, Clemson leads the all-time series 65-41-8.
“We’ve won four in a row, but the record looks really bad,” Hampton said. “We’ve still got a lot of motivation and a lot of stuff to do to catch up to those guys.”
Clemson week had already begun. With that, it got off on an entertaining note.
South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson (17) jumps into the arms of teammate Kwinton Smith (82) after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina beat Coastal Carolina 70-10. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)×