Turnovers will be critical

In the past four games, the Gamecocks have two turnovers, while the Tigers have nine.

There are statistics, and then there are statistics.

Some coaches worry too much about the ones that don't matter.

And most fans do the same.

But there is one stat that usually decides the outcome of a football game: turnovers.

Sure, there are no definite stats to decide every game because every game is different. Things happen to change things up. Things happen to throw teams off their game.

And there are always exceptions to any rule (Georgia Tech beat Virginia this year after turning the ball over five times, after all).

But typically, and usually more than that, teams that win the turnover battle win the game.

Clemson's current losing streak to South Carolina – which matches the Gamecocks' longest winning streak in the series – is perfect evidence of that.

Clemson has owned this series throughout the history of the two programs, winning 65 times and losing 41 with four ties. In only two decades do the Gamecocks have a winning record, and those came in the 1940s and 1950s, winning five times in each of those with four losses and a tie.

In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, Clemson handed South Carolina seven losses in each decade.

And there was really no reason to think that would change … until South Carolina hired Steve Spurrier and until the Tigers started being so careless with the ball the past four meetings.

Spurrier has written this story line before. When he arrived at Florida, the Gators had gone 4-15 against Georgia from 1971 to 1989. The Gators' biggest rivals had dominated the series and made it look easy in many years. It was the biggest thorn in the side of the Florida program.

As soon as he arrived, Spurrier changed that (getting some help from the Georgia administration when it hired Ray Goff and Jim Donnan as the head coach). Spurrier went 11-1 against Georgia during his time as his alma mater's head coach, and that changed the tone for that series and for the Florida program in general, which became a national power. All along Spurrier took cheap, immature shots at Georgia and enjoyed getting under the Bulldogs' fans' and coaches' skin. Sound familiar?

Florida's control of the series continued even after Spurrier left as the Gators went 7-2 in the next nine games. And only recently has that changed with the Bulldogs winning three straight. So this is nothing new for him.

But what is new in this series is Clemson's struggles, and those starts with turnovers.

South Carolina has won the past four games – and they haven't really been close – all by double digits. The Gamecocks won by 17 (34-17), 22 (29-7) 21 (34-13) and 10 (27-17), and in each game, turnovers changed the game or decided it altogether.

In 2009, the Tigers jumped on top early as C.J. Spiller returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and they appeared to have the early momentum. But a Jamie Harper fumble killed an early drive and totally moved the momentum over to the Gamecocks' side.

And it hasn't moved back.

In the past four games, the Gamecocks have two turnovers, while the Tigers have nine.

Those kinds of mistakes have been too much for Clemson to overcome, and that's usually the case for most teams in most games.

Go back one more game to 2008 to Dabo Swinney's lone win so far over Spurrier and the Gamecocks. South Carolina likely was playing for a New Year's Day bowl and an eighth win in the regular season. Swinney's Tigers were playing for bowl eligibility and truthfully for Swinney to shake off the interim tag and become the Tigers' head coach full time.

In the first half, South Carolina threw three interceptions, and Clemson turned them all into touchdowns. There was also a blocked punt, which is as good as another turnover, and the Tigers turned that into a field goal. So it was 24-0, and the game was all but over … again, because of turnovers.

Spurrier certainly has had Swinney's number. The Gamecocks' head coach was 1-2 against Tommy Bowden and is now 4-1 against Swinney.

South Carolina has played well in those games and has helped cause many of those mistakes. But the Tigers haven't helped their cause.

If they can avoid similar mistakes Saturday, they can snap their losing streak to the Gamecocks and get back on the right track in the series. If not, we likely will be talking about a fifth straight South Carolina win, something the Gamecocks have never done before.

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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