The Daily Gamecock

Preview: South Carolina football looks to become bowl eligible with win over Clemson

The South Carolina Gamecocks (5-6, 3-5 SEC) have one more chance at earning bowl eligibility when it faces its in-state rival, the No. 24 Clemson Tigers (7-4, 4-4 ACC), this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 

The Tigers open as 7.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, and are coming off of a home win against the then-No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels. 

Both teams head into this year's edition of the Palmetto Bowl with three-game win streaks. Clemson’s three victories came over then-No. 15 Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, while South Carolina picked up wins against Jacksonville State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky in recent weeks after starting the season 2-4. The Gamecocks need six wins to be eligible for a bowl game. 

"I think (this rivalry is) great for the state of South Carolina," head coach Shane Beamer said. "Clemson is doing well. South Carolina is doing well. We're both winning, and these games have extra meaning and magnitude each and every year." 

Last season, the Gamecocks earned a 31-30 upset win over the Tigers, snapping Clemson’s seven game win streak over South Carolina. The Tigers hold a lead in the all-time series 73-43-4 and have won eight of the last 10 Palmetto Bowls. 

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Alex Huntley said that the Gamecocks' pre-game preparations have not changed because of their opponent. 

“We're not switching anything up (in practice) — we're doing our same routine,” Huntley said. "We're just being ourselves, focusing on ourselves, focusing on the game plan and just kind of locking in on that." 

Saturday's game will mark Beamer's seventh all-time Palmetto Bowl and his third as a head coach. He said that this game will be an emotional one, as all rivalry games are, and that mutual hatred will not determine who emerges from the game victorious. 

"The team that wins is not going to be the team that dislikes the other team more," Beamer said. "It's going to be the team that plays the best and coaches the best." 

South Carolina has not allowed an opponent to score more than 15 points each of the last two weeks, a stark improvement compared to the 34 points per game it allowed over its previous six matchups. Senior defensive tackle Tonka Hemingway said this turnaround stems from the defense making more plays in key moments and defensive coordinator Clayton White listening to his players.

"(White is) a great coach. He listens," Hemingway said. "It's not just always on him. We still got to execute the play calls and everything." 

The Gamecocks will still be without junior running back Juju McDowell this week after he broke his collarbone against Vanderbilt. Beamer said "everyone else is questionable," but he is not counting on senior wide receiver Antwane "Juice" Wells Jr. being available for Saturday's game. 

"If Juice came to me today after practice or today after this press conference and said he wanted to play this week, it wouldn't shock me," Beamer said. "I'm not counting on that happening, though." 

Wells' posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday night that he plans to return to the Gamecocks for the 2024 season. 

South Carolina's offense will have its work cut out for it against Clemson's defense, which is currently ranked No. 10 in the country in yards allowed per game at 288.6. The Gamecocks' offense is currently ranked No. 68 in the country, averaging only 380.7 total yards per game. 

"They have an SEC (level) defensive line, and they do every year," Beamer said. "(Junior Barrett) Carter and (junior Jeremiah) Trotter, the two linebackers, are lights out, probably the best linebacker tandem that we've played." 

The Tigers' offense ranks No. 48 in the country, averaging 413.5 total yards per game under sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik, and South Carolina's defense is ranked No. 96 in the country, allowing 402.6 total yards per game. 

"(Their) quarterback is an athlete," Beamer said. "He can throw, can run, had double digit carries last week against North Carolina. They want to run the ball."

The Gamecocks will look to keep its bowl hopes alive this Saturday when it faces the Tigers at 7:30 p.m., while Clemson is hoping to play spoiler against their biggest rival and eliminate South Carolina from postseason contention in their own home stadium. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.