COLUMBIA — South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles is from Greenwood, which is between Columbia and Clemson. Though he received a scholarship offer from Clemson, he always seemed destined to play for USC. His father, Buddy, was an offensive lineman for USC from 1984-87.
The Gamecocks went 2-1-1 against Clemson during Buddy’s career, including a 22-21 win in 1984 at Clemson that helped the Gamecocks finish 10-2 – their best ever record until they went 11-2 last season, when Kelcy was a true freshman. USC’s other win during Buddy’s career came in 1987 in Columbia, as No. 12 USC beat No. 8 Clemson 20-7.
Saturday’s USC-Clemson game will be the second matchup of top 15 teams in the rivalry’s history. It is also a chance for Quarles to equal his dad’s win total against the Tigers, as the Gamecocks go for their fourth straight victory, which they have done just once (1951-54).
Last season, Quarles started the final six games and finished with two tackles for loss and no sacks. This season, he missed two of 11 games because of a shoulder sprain. He started the other nine. He has become more of a factor in pass rush, with seven tackles for loss and 2½ sacks.
“I feel like I play harder,” Quarles said. “I feel like I give more effort than last year, because last year, I just felt like I was out there just to help and just to contribute what I could do. But this year I’ve felt like, in my pass rush and everything, I could be a big impact on the game no matter what I was doing.”
Because of his family connections to USC, the Clemson game means a lot to Quarles.
“This game has been a big rivalry in my family for a long time, since my dad played here,” Quarles said. “It’s very, very important and vital that we get this one. When the recruiting process started, the first offer I saw was Clemson. My dad always told me he really didn’t care what school I went to, but I knew in the back of my mind that if I did go to Clemson, it would be a big thing in my family. I kind of knew in my heart and I knew in his heart what he really wanted me to do.
“My emotions (for the Clemson game) started (Sunday). I actually came in early and started watching the N.C. State game (that Clemson played last week). Every day I wake up, I think about this game, because I’ve never played up there (at Clemson). Just to step out there for the first time, I know I’m going to be out of my mind, going crazy, but I’m going to try to control myself and do everything I possibly can to help the team win.”
USC’S ROAD STRUGGLES: While the Gamecocks went undefeated at home this season, 7-0, for the first time since 1987, they are 2-2 on the road entering the Clemson trip. Granted, their two toughest games, LSU and Florida, were on the road. But in the season opener at Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks trailed 13-10 before scoring a touchdown with 11:25 left, to win 17-13. And on their trip to Kentucky, the Gamecocks trailed 17-7 at halftime before rallying to win 38-17.
USC’s senior defensive end, Devin Taylor, remembers how the Gamecocks took Clemson’s crowd out of the game during their last trip to Memorial Stadium – a 29-7 USC win in 2010.
“Any time we were able to make a play, you could just feel the atmosphere of the crowd just kind of fall away slowly each time,” Taylor said. “When we finally took the lead and had different things happen throughout the game for us, it pretty much signified that they were beat.”
BLITZES RARELY HAPPEN: Pressuring Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd will be important for USC on Saturday, but Gamecocks defensive line coach Brad Lawing defines a blitz differently than most casual football observers.
To Lawing, a blitz is when the defense brings more rushers than the offense has blockers (between the offensive linemen and tight ends, and running backs who remain in the backfield to block). Lawing said USC has blitzed twice all year and didn’t do it at all last year under defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Lawing also refers to a blitz as an “overload.” “People don’t blitz anymore,” Lawing said. “Nobody hardly does, because quarterbacks are too good. Offensive systems are too good. If they catch you in an overload, they’re going to motion somebody in, get it protected up, get one-on-ones with everybody (on defense) and beat them. You don’t see blitzing hardly at all anymore. You see a lot of pressure, but not blitzing.”
To Lawing, “pressure” is when a defense brings more than its four defensive linemen. USC has done that about 10 times per game since the start of last season, Lawing said. That counts pressures designed to stop the run in addition to those designed to harass the quarterback.