It’s rivalry week in the Palmetto State as the South Carolina Gamecocks 7-4 (4-4 SEC) and No. 7 Clemson Tigers 10-1 (8-0 ACC) will play on the gridiron this weekend. South Carolina is coming off a statement victory over then-No. 5 Tennessee, while Clemson beat Miami to finish unbeaten in conference play in the regular season.
The Daily Gamecock talked with Justin Robertson, sports editor for The Tiger, Clemson’s student paper, to preview the most anticipated rivalry matchup in years. The game is set for a noon kickoff on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.
The Daily Gamecock: What is the atmosphere within the Clemson program at this point in the season?
Justin Robertson: “Internally, they've always had a high level of optimism in themselves. They've always known that they're capable of going to the national championship and winning the national championship. So, when you look at this season, outside of that Notre Dame game, I think every game Clemson has been able to rally and been able to pull out the wins, as we've seen. And after the Notre Dame game, they were able to respond."
"And they're coming off a big time win over Miami, they just blew the doors off against Miami, and now you have an opportunity to still compete for a College Football Playoff spot. So, I think internally, there's a lot of optimism, and they're disregarding the outside noise that may be more present than ever, because of how high the expectations are for the program.”
Coming into this year, were Clemson fans expecting another perfect season and where do those expectations sit at this point in the season?
“I think coming into the year, there's a lot of question marks, specifically at the quarterback position, you know, (junior) DJ Uiagalelei did not have a great year last year. And he knew that, the coaches knew that, the fans knew that. So, there's a lot of questions surrounding if he was going to be the guy or (quarterback) Cade Klubnik, the five-star freshman was going to have to take over, and we've seen Cade come in some spots. But ultimately, it is DJ’s team right now. And I think there are definitely some fans out there that are concerned about that, but at the same time, I think a lot of people still believe that Clemson can make the playoffs."
The path is not as easy as it has been in the past. But when you look at, you know, the remaining schedule of South Carolina and then UNC in the ACC Championship game, there's a path for the Tigers to make it, and I think as long as the fans are optimistic, I think the team is going to be optimistic as well.”
You mentioned DJ, who are some other impact players for Clemson on offense, and who should South Carolina fans keep their eye on from the Tigers’ defense?
“I think on offense, you have to start with the running backs, and it's not just (sophomore) Will Shipley. Will Shipley is the lead back. He's the guy that's going to go out there and make those eye-opening plays like that hurdle a couple weeks ago, but behind Will Shipley is a guy named (sophomore) Phil Mafah, who does not get a lot of national recognition, and he is a true workhorse. I mean the coaches rave about him.”
“And then you have (wide reciever) Antonio Williams, the true freshman in the slot, who is really the most dynamic playmaker Clemson has in the passing game. And it's not like Clemson is wide receiver U anymore, but Antonio Williams is one of those guys that's going to become a stud. And he's going to be an NFL prospect in two years. And he has really allowed Clemson's passing game to flourish in some spots.”
“Looking at the defensive side of the ball. I think (sophomore) linebacker Barrett Carter is one of the most dynamic defensive playmakers in the nation. I think he is so athletic and so dynamic that he can cover any position — they'll put him at nickel, they'll put him on the outside, they’ll put him on the weak side, they’ll put him at middle linebacker sometimes, they'll put him at safety. He's such a highly regarded player among the coaches, that they're willing to put him in any position just to have him on the field.”
Clemson this season seems to have come out of the gate slow during some of their early game times. But on the other hand, South Carolina is 0-4 in games played during the day. So, who do you think the noon kickoff will impact most?
“I don't know if it's going to benefit or hurt one team specifically. But I do think the atmosphere itself, if it was a night game, I think South Carolina would have a much more difficult chance of winning, but since it’s a noon game, I’m not expecting the fans to be as hyped up for the game and really bring the same energy they would if it was a 7:30 or 8 p.m. kickoff. So, I do think that benefits South Carolina a little bit in that regard.”
How do you think the Gamecocks can replicate last weekend’s success and keep it close late in the game?
“Anytime you beat a top-five team, you are going to have a renewed sense of confidence. And I think that is very dangerous for Clemson because South Carolina is coming off one of their biggest wins in recent memory, and they're going to be energized, they're going to be motivated, they're going to be ready to play on Saturday. So, I think looking at Clemson’s weaknesses that South Carolina can kind of exploit, I think the number one thing is that if you force Clemson to pass and you can limit their run, their run offense, I think ultimately it's going to cause some problems because DJ has played far better than he did last year. But there are still some of those plays that fans are just questioning like, ‘Why is he making those plays?’ And rightfully so.”
"28-24 victory over the Gamecocks."