South Carolina will meet a different type of Clemson team: a healthy one
CLEMSON — There will be no excuses available for No. 12 Clemson (10-1) when it tries to snap a three-game losing streak to No. 13 South Carolina (9-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium — at least no injury excuses.
In each of the last three rivalry meetings, Clemson has entered with a banged-up star.
In 2009, C.J. Spiller was dealing with turf toe, which in part limited him to nine carries and 18 yards on the ground.
In 2010, quarterback Kyle Parker was never the same after sustaining a rib injury at Auburn, while Berkeley High product Andre Ellington had just one carry due to a foot injury.
Last season, Sammy Watkins missed the prior week’s game versus N.C. State with a shoulder injury and caught just four passes for 39 yards in Columbia. Left tackle Phillip Price was also limited due to a knee injury and as a result the Gamecocks constantly pressured quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd completed 11 of 29 passes for 83 yards, the worst performance of the junior’s career.
But Clemson enters this final week of the regular season the healthiest it has been in the Dabo Swinney era. Every Clemson offensive starter appears to be injury free as Clemson fell just two yards shy of the program’s single-game total yardage mark (754) in a 62-48 win over N.C. State on Saturday.
“We’ve been pretty blessed there to keep the majority of guys on the field,” Swinney said. “I’d say we’re in pretty good shape for 11 ballgames in.”
Watkins sat out the second half of the Maryland game with a lower leg injury, but he appears to be fine after an 11-catch, 110-yard effort against the Wolfpack that included a 27-yard touchdown catch where he separated from N.C. State defensive backs.
Boyd is apparently OK after taking a shot to the upper body late in the game.
The only new injury of consequence is on the defensive side, where starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland is “doubtful,” according to Swinney, after sustaining a groin injury on special teams against N.C. State.
Breeland is the team’s top cover corner, and cornerback is the one area where Clemson has been hit with injuries. Clemson lost fellow starter Darius Robinson to a season-ending broken leg earlier in the season and contributor Martin Jenkins was lost for the season due to an offseason injury.
But unlike South Carolina, Clemson’s stars are healthy.
The Gamecocks lost star tailback Marcus Lattimore to a severe knee injury. Elite defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did not play in South Carolina’s win over Wofford on Saturday due to a foot sprain but is expected to play against Clemson (No. 11 in the BCS standings). Quarterback Connor Shaw is also nursing an injured foot.
Despite the injuries, Swinney said South Carolina is an “outstanding team” and compared its talent level to Florida State, the only team to beat Clemson this season. Even with full health, Swinney says Clemson needs improved execution.
Swinney said Sunday the focus should be on the players this week and not his year-long verbal sparring match with USC coach Steve Spurrier.
“Whenever I’ve been around (Spurrier), our relationship has been very cordial,” Swinney said.
“But listen, it’s not about me or coach Spurrier, it’s about the guys playing in the game.”