This evening, the battle for football sovereignty over the state of South Carolina will commence. Both sides, battle lines drawn, uniforms perfect, will begin firing at each other.
How will this battle end? No one knows, but one thing is certain, neither will just skip their way to an easy victory.
For South Carolina, a new coach, a somewhat surprising, respectable season and facing their seventh straight loss to the Tigers. One must assume, motivation is of little concern in their camp. Looking on, as the once mighty Tigers seem to be less than before. They smell blood in the water.
For Clemson, one must allow themself to look at their body of work. Focus on these three “if’s” and hopefully find a little comfort. If not for a pick six by Georgia, the number one team in the nation, Clemson’s demeanor, their confidence, would most certainly have been more positive.
If not for several errant plays against NC State, the Tigers could have gained another victory. Instead, it was a crushing double overtime loss. If it weren’t for an almost apocalyptic number of injuries, this Clemson team might have gelled more quickly.
Continuity within position groups has been a nonexistent commodity because injuries have been so unbelievable. I’ve asked several times through the season, “did anyone get injured at the pregame interviews?” Yes, it’s been that bad.
I understand that one can’t bank on “if’s,” as every team can claim their own rationalizations of how their seasons might have unfolded differently. However, in spite of all the issues, this scrappy bunch has won four straight. Albeit, most too close for comfort, but just maybe they showed their true abilities in defeating then No. 10 Wake Forest so handily. It seems as if this never give up, band of brothers, is coming together and playing complimentary football. Yes, a little late, but for this rivalry game, at just the right time.
With all that stated, what is the way to a victory for the Gamecocks? They have to go right, straight through the gauntlet, which is Brent Venables’ defense. That might prove to be a very difficult task.
The Tigers success depends on protecting their quarterback, giving him time to make those plays that have, so often, been elusive. Those young Running Backs and receivers must have a big day and the play calling needs to be as bold as the available talent will lend itself.
The Tigers can’t leave anything on the table. It’s all or nothing. That’s the situation facing Dabo Swinney’s team tonight.
Here’s the deal, in my humble opinion, anyways. You could actually throw all of those musings out the window once this battle begins. This is an emotional game. Highly emotional this year. Motivation swings are expected, and crowd noise will be deafening. Through sheer, adrenaline fueled effort, anything can happen.
Whichever of these two teams can control their emotions, ignore the noise of the raucous, hostile crowd and manage not to turn the ball over and make stupid penalties, that’s the team that will most likely earn the win. One can only hope it’ll be the Tigers. In a few hours, we will know.
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