Dabo Swinney, Will Muschamp (copy)

Dabo Swinney and Will Muschamp will be on opposing sidelines when Clemson challenges South Carolina on Saturday. Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — Clemson fans have plenty to be thankful for.

The Tigers have treated them to yet another dominant regular season, with a fifth consecutive College Football Playoff berth within reach. 

The postseason begins with the ACC Championship next weekend, but first the Tigers have one more roadblock, and it's in a familiar location: Columbia.

There was a time when Williams-Brice Stadium, home of South Carolina, was an unsolvable football labyrinth for Clemson. The Tigers fell to the Gamecocks five seasons in a row from 2009-2013, with three of the contests in Columbia.

Things have changed. The programs have spread to opposite ends of the Power 5 football hierarchy, with Clemson (11-0) a powerhouse and South Carolina (4-7) a putterer. The biggest conversations entering Saturday's contest focus not on potential matchups but on student section conduct.

The game, of course, still has to be played, despite Clemson's ever-secure odds. Here are four keys for the Tigers, ranked No. 3 in the latest CFP poll, to avoid what would be a massive upset to their biggest rival.

Let the Gamecocks fans troll

The last time Clemson played at South Carolina, Gamecocks fans pelted the Tigers with bottles. Players and coaches on both sides have called for increased civility this time around, but there are still questions about what will happen when the game starts and intensity builds.

"There's that possibility you might get hit with a bottle," center Gage Cervenka said. "There's a lot more middle fingers going at you."

Clemson rolled to a 34-10 victory last time in Columbia. This time around, the Tigers should, in the event of more bottle throwing, keep to themselves. There's no reason to engage, and doing so would only deflect from what's happening on the field.

Let Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne shine

Clemson has two of the most dynamic players in the nation in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. South Carolina has struggled this season against lesser offensive weapons, so it's likely Lawrence and Etienne can put together big performances against the Gamecocks.

In the past four weeks Lawrence has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception. Etienne has recorded eight rushing touchdowns and one receiving score in the span. 

Make Ryan Hilinski uncomfortable

Ryan Hilinski, the Gamecocks' freshman quarterback, has had an up-and-down campaign. He shone on Nov. 2 in South Carolina's 24-7 win over Vanderbilt, finishing 24-of-31 passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

On the season, Hilinski is 220-of-379 passing for 2,252 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions. 

"The kind of success he's having as a freshman is not the norm," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of Hilinski. "Plays with great toughness and a lot of energy."

Hilinski had an ugly game Nov. 16 at Texas A&M. He went 16-of-41 passing for 175 yards as the Aggies rolled to 30-6 victory. The Tigers' ACC-leading defense will aim to make him uncomfortable and limit his production.

Remember the bigger picture

Clemson is once again favored to win big Saturday. Like most of their contests this season, the Tigers will likely have the chance to sit their starters in the second half.

Clemson's best players are better rested than stars on most other elite teams, and the Tigers can keep it that way by going up big in the first half Saturday and resting their biggest weapons over the final two quarters.


Clemson 54, South Carolina 7

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.