COLUMBIA — Lou Holtz said he’d like to beat Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, too. Steve Spurrier strolled through the locker rooms, taking down all of the paraphernalia related to just this game, because the SEC games counted for more and he wanted to win every game on his schedule.
Shane Beamer was here for four years of Spurrier’s reign, and knows about the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry. He also knows how he’s going to, and not going to, approach it.
“It’s not just another game. Let’s be realistic, we understand what this game means to the people of this state and the people in each program. I do think you have to be careful about putting it too much on a higher pedestal than the other games,” the Gamecocks’ first-year head coach said.
“I know there are some programs across the country that have a countdown clock, 365 days a year for this rivalry. We will never, ever, ever, ever do anything like that at Carolina.”
It’s interesting he discussed that particular tactic. There are several schools that have a countdown clock for their rivalry game (Ohio State for Michigan, even Missouri State unveiled one for a rematch against Arkansas a few years ago).
But Clemson had one in 2014, ticking down the seconds until the next USC game. Some of them sported large labels reading “0-5.”
The Tigers installed them after an unprecedented five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks from 2009-13, the longest garnet-tinged streak in the series and at the time the second-longest in the overall rivalry. They figured a little extra motivation couldn’t hurt.
It was an upswing of talent at Clemson and a severe downturn of the same at USC that turned the tide that year, and the Gamecocks haven’t recovered since. Clemson is on a six-game winning streak, passing USC’s five and now second to its own streak of seven straight wins from 1934-40.
Beamer was part of the first two of “The Five,” as they are affectionately known in the Midlands, and as a player at Virginia Tech, he was 2-0 against Clemson. He also knows that even with the Tigers in a “down year,” having lost three games this season, they’re still plenty talented.
So he didn’t dust off the signs Spurrier took down and rehang them when he got here. He knew he had much bigger challenges than just telling his kids to beat Clemson.
“Now, I’m not an idiot. I understand that this is an intense rivalry, and for the players on both sides and the coaches on both sides, it’s different,” he said. “We prepare the same way every week, but certainly I don’t need to spend a lot of extra time in my office coming up with motivational tactics this week.”
It beckons to the old-school sentimentality of many around USC, with a degree of truth involved. They know the Gamecocks are at best a longshot to ever win the SEC football championship, so their desire most of the time is to have a winning season, and beat Clemson. Some of the ancient fans have seen so much heartbreak that they’ve adopted the motto, “Don’t care if they’re 1-11, as long as the one is against the Tigers.”
Beamer obviously can’t have that attitude, and doesn’t. He listens to players like JJ Enagbare, who’s not even from this state but spent time after practice the other day telling his younger teammates how vital this game is.
Brad Johnson, who grew up a Steve Taneyhill spiral away from Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, also chimed in.
“I ain’t never been a Clemson fan,” he said authoritatively, mentioning he stuck to it despite several family members and friends attending the university in Pickens County.
Beamer has heard it since he got hired, because of course he has. “Beat Clemson” is as ingrained as the welcomes he received doing the Gamecock Club booster-club circuit over the summer.
He knows what it means, but he’s not going to over-emphasize it until the week of the game arrives.
Which is this week.
“I think there’s a fine line. We talk all the time about nameless, faceless opponents and treating everybody the same,” he said. “Our guys will be reared up and ready to go.”