COLUMBIA — Spending the week trying to convince anyone with a curious ear that this is just another game on the schedule was a nice diversion in theory.
You can’t fool the fans, though. Reading between the lines — or more accurately, waiting patiently for the right remark — it’s clear everyone associated with Clemson is tired of hearing about the South Carolina streak and wants it erased.
“There’s some deep-seated hatred that’s involved. But that’s most rivalries. Most people tell you they just want to beat their rival, and you can lose the rest of them and that’s OK.”
That’s from Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who is 0-1 against the Gamecocks.
“The senior class has put together some great years here. But this is just one of the things that’s been a burden to us. Something we haven’t been able to get done. We’ve just got to find a way to get it done. That’s all that really needs to be said about that.”
That’s from quarterback Tajh Boyd, who is 0-2 against the Gamecocks.
“When you live in this state and you don’t win that game, that’s something you hear about all the time. That’s just the nature of the rivalry. That’s the way it is. That’s why you want to win it.”
That’s from head coach Dabo Swinney, who is 0-4 against the Gamecocks as the full-time head man.
The focus has been on Boyd and his illustrious class, which hasn’t seen a Clemson triumph in the series since the fifth-year Tigers were wrapping up their senior year of high school.
But it’s not just about those guys, even though they’re the group with one last chance. The coaches coming back next year don’t want to hear about it. The players coming back next year don’t want to hear about it.
“It’s always a big issue in the state of South Carolina when Clemson and South Carolina are playing,” said junior safety Robert Smith, a Woodland High product. “In a way, there can be pressure. But somebody told me a long time ago the only pressure there is, is the pressure you put on yourself.”
That’s been the modus operandi three separate times this fall in the Upstate. It worked against Georgia. It did not against Florida State. This is the third marquee game of the year, fitting to have the lasting significance heightened since it is against the nemesis that has vexed the Tigers for four straight years.
“It’s huge. You’ve gotten beat four years in a row, nobody wants it to go to five,” Swinney said. “We need to win the dang game, that’s the bottom line. We want to finish, we want to get our 11th win, we want to go to the BCS, we want to end this particular streak, and that’s huge for everybody. Everybody wants to win, bad.”
Clemson has won eight straight away from home, tied for the third-best streak in the nation. South Carolina has won 17 straight at Williams-Brice Stadium, the longest run of success in the country. Something’s got to give.
“If you think we’re going to walk in there and they’re going to give up a 17-game winning streak on Senior Day very easily, I’ve got some swampland down in Florida to sell you,” Swinney said. “We’re going to get everything they’ve got. And they’re going to get our very best. I think it’s going to be an incredibly competitive, passionate, hard-fought football game that’s going to come down to a few plays.”
It’s not set in stone that both programs’ bowl futures hinge on this result. Clemson seems pre-ordained for the Orange Bowl regardless of the outcome, while South Carolina’s fate is in control of Saturday night’s Texas A&M-Missouri game, which determines the SEC East champion and will shake up the league’s pecking order.
Still, the Orange Bowl would love to see Clemson prevail, and the Sugar Bowl wouldn’t mind seeing South Carolina grabbing its 10th victory.
“We want to go to a BCS game. Same way with those guys,” Boyd said. “The stakes are high on both sides. It’s all going to come down to who wants it more, and out-competes the other guy.”
Since Halloween, Boyd is the highest-rated passer in the country, completing 78 percent of his passes. The “consistently inconsistent” barbs lobbed by his offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, are a distant memory.
But if there’s one Clemson figure whose legacy will be prominently affected by Saturday night’s showdown, it’s got to be Boyd.
“We’ve been hitting on all cylinders at the right time. We played some good ball in September and October, but we’re playing our best ball here in November,” Boyd said. “So what a better way to try to finish off the regular season than performing like you know you’re capable of performing. Against a team like this.”