A day to enjoy, look ahead

There were two questions that dominated the postgame of Clemson's win over The Citadel on Saturday.

How did the seniors enjoy their final home game? When did the players and coaches start thinking about the upcoming regular-season finale against South Carolina.

From the sound of it, the seniors enjoyed themselves immensely, and they should have. It was an impressive performance against an admittedly outmanned opponent. But the Tigers didn't play down to the FCS competition; they performed to their own high standards and played a clean game. But then they quickly put the game behind them to focus on the Gamecocks, and they need to do just that.

Clemson has owned South Carolina through the history of this series, but the Gamecocks have won four straight to turn the series on its ear. Steve Spurrier had similar success in turning a rivalry series when he was at Florida. The Gators had long struggled against Georgia, but Spurrier, the former Gators standout quarterback, changed that when he took over as Flroida's head coach, and he owned Georgia.

These kinds of series typically have runs back and forth, and South Carolina is enjoying its time to shine in this series.

The Tigers need to stop that Saturday, and they're playing better this year entering the game than they have the past three years. They have won four straight in impressive fashion since being blown out by Florida State, and in the past three games, they have topped 50 points.

Last year, they were playing well offensively going into the finale, but the week before the game, they were awful on defense against N.C. State, especially getting off the field on third down. Those issues were key in the loss to the Gamecocks as South Carolina dominated time of possession and kept Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense on the sideline for much of the second half.

Two years ago, the Tigers had lost two of three games entering the regular-season finale. In 2010, they were 2-2 in the four games leading up to the showdown, and they were just dreadful offensively that season.

In 2009, Clemson was playing well, winning six straight. But the Gamecocks jumped on the Tigers after C.J. Spiller returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and never let them back in the game.

We will have all week to break down this game, the strengths and weaknesses of each team, the advantages each team has over the other. But the biggest key might be just how this Clemson team feels about itself and the confidence it has from its recent surge.

Is that enough to overcome the losing streak to the Gamecocks? Or will the Tigers' be so wrapped up in ending the streak that they will be too tight to play well?

A class with class
How the Tigers play against the Gamecocks starts with the senior class, especially Boyd. Boyd is the best quarterback Clemson has had. But the one mark on his resume is his play against South Carolina. He has a chance to change that Saturday, but win or lose that game, Boyd's time with the Tigers and the impact he has had on the program can't be diminished or argued. With the rest of the senior class, Boyd has helped change this program. The Tigers were 6-7 during his redshirt freshman season -- a season most Clemson fans don't want to remember.

Now the Tigers have won 10 games or more for the third straight season, and they have set a standard of accountability and consistency that will carry the program forward after they're gone.

They also have handled themselves with class off the field. While many programs deal with arrests and police reports, academic problems and embarrassments off the field, the Tigers have not had many of those problems in recent years. Those things seem to go in cycles, but Dabo Swinney and his staff are recruiting the right kinds of young men to join the program, and when coaches do that, they can have a program fans and alumni can be proud of.

The members of this class are right in the middle of that for the Tigers. They have been wonderful ambassadors for the university and have done things the right way.

Now they just need to go out the right way with a win Saturday.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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