Clemson, South Carolina seniors at crossroads

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Associated Press

Posted on November 22, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 22 at 12:02 PM

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — It's something none of the seniors at Clemson or South Carolina expected — going winless or undefeated in the rivalry.

But now that the 13th-ranked Gamecocks' upperclassmen can go 4-0 in the series, they're looking to complete the sweep. Meanwhile, the senior for No. 12 Clemson want to avoid becoming just the second class to leave campus without a win against the hated Gamecocks.

"I grew up 15 minutes from Williams-Brice and it's been awful going home these past three years," said Clemson senior center Dalton Freeman, from Pelion. "I'm definitely looking to change that as well."

South Carolina's longest win streak in the rivalry is from 1951-54.

Clemson players have felt perfection over South Carolina several times in the past, most recently with a four-game win streak from 2002 through 2005. The Tigers have a 65-40-5 edge since the rivalry began in 1896, including 10 of 12 before South Carolina's recent surge.

Gamecocks senior defensive end Devin Taylor said attitudes changed three years ago when highly regarded players bought into the potential they saw at South Carolina. Top-rated prospects like Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney all picked the Gamecocks and the turnaround began.

A 34-17 win at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2009 ended Clemson's run and the Gamecocks followed that up with victories the next two seasons, 29-7 in 2010 and 34-13 last year.

"I think as far as that goes, each team kind of put out goals throughout the season," Taylor said. "It's one of those things we want to do, not just for ourselves but our fans who care about this."

Clemson's seniors care plenty, too, and have grown weary with the questions and critical comments that typically follow after a rivalry loss.

"There's a lot at stake," Freeman said. "We've done a ton in this senior class to take the lid off this program. One of them has not been beating South Carolina. "So we need to accomplish that and put ourselves in position of being in a BCS game."

The Tigers (10-1) have a chance at an at-large BCS bid with their first 11-win season since their 12-0, national championship campaign in 1981.

Clemson looked a strong bet to end the South Carolina streak in the middle of last season with an 8-0 record and the buzz of a national title contender. Then the Tigers dropped three of their last four, including the embarrassing defeat at the Gamecocks where garnet-and-black clad fans screamed them off the field when it ended.

While that loss clung to them throughout the offseason, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney taught his team to play to a standard instead of an opponent.

The results are crystal clear: A team that looked worn out and lost at the end of 2011 ran 102 plays in a 62-48 win over North Carolina State last week.

"Last year we felt like we were running out of gas at the end," Freeman said. "This year we feel like we have at least half a tank."

South Carolina's players always seem to find enough fuel to beat Clemson, no matter the circumstances. A season ago, the Gamecocks lost senior quarterback Stephen Garcia to dismissal and star tailback Marcus Lattimore to a knee injury, yet still routed the Tigers.

South Carolina will again be without Lattimore, lost to a gruesome knee injury against Tennessee last month. Coach Steve Spurrier will again call on senior backup Kenny Miles, a key performer in two of the last three wins over Clemson.

Miles rushed for 114 yards on 17 carries in the 2009 victory, then had 71 yards a season ago as the Gamecocks controlled the clock and kept Clemson's fast-paced offense off the field.

Senior linebacker Shaq Wilson says the Gamecocks don't dwell on past success or counting up victories from earlier years. The Clemson is the biggest there is because it's the next one on the schedule. "For us, there isn't much pressure," he said. "We're just going out there having fun playing football."

It's the attitude Spurrier loves to see from his players. He thinks improved talent and coaching have led to the team's recent rivalry success.

"Obviously, our guys have played very well against them the last three years," Spurrier said. "We'll just have to wait and see if we can do it again this year."

Swinney knows his seniors must lead the way for Clemson to have success as they did a year ago in winning the school's first ACC title in 20 years.

"The list of things they haven't gotten done is very short," he said. Beating South Carolina is "a big one for them."

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