It's that time of the year again. For one week friends become enemies, families are torn, and houses are divided. When you grow up in the state of South Carolina there's no middle ground - You're either a Gamecock or a Tiger. When South Carolina and Clemson step on the field together the lines are drawn.
"I've coached in some other states that have tremendous rivalries," defensive line coach Brad Lawing said, who has coached at South Carolina for 15 years during two different stints. "They don't compare to this one. You got a state where football is so important - when you take a state with a per capita that we have and we have two stadiums in the state that seat over 80,000 - that attests to the importance of football in this state. You grow up in this state you've got to choose one or the other. It comes down to one Saturday in November every year."
There's no doubt football is king in South Carolina. It's always been said that there are three seasons in South Carolina; football season, recruiting season, and spring football season. While many fans are a nervous wreck by the time the game arrives, but Lawing has a different approach.
"It's a fun game," Lawing said. "It really is. Beating Clemson, for us, is job number one right now. We've got to be ready to play this game. There's no option of not being ready to play."
Things have certainly been much more fun for Lawing this season. The Gamecocks lead the SEC and tied with NC State for third in the nation in sacks with 36.
"We've got more athleticism - we've got more range," Lawing said. "We've got some taller guys, probably stronger - Coach Fitz (Fitzgerald) has done a good job with that. We've learned to work hard."
The defensive line will be tested by Clemson's new duo of running backs. Andre Ellington, who is questionable after missing the last three games with a toe injury, is the leading rusher with 686 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
Should Ellington miss the game Saturday, the Tigers feel confident with Jamie Harper getting the carries. Harper, whose first quarter fumble was a turning point in Carolina's 34-17 thrashing of the Tigers last season, has thrived in Ellington's absence. Harper has rushed for 345 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games.
"If he's having a good season then we've got to step up to the plate and stop whatever they've got coming for us," defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye said.
If the Gamecocks are able to contain the Tiger running game, the Tigers will have to turn to an inconsistent Kyle Parker. Parker, who opted to return for one more season before heading west to join the Colorado Rockies, has thrown for 1,962 and 11 touchdowns, but has completed just 58% of his passes and has thrown nine interceptions. Last season the Gamecocks were able to get pressure on Parker and force him into throwing bad passes, something they will need to do again Saturday.
"He's a great quarterback," defensive tackle Travian Robertson said. "He can run the ball and throw the ball so our thing is going to be to get him down any chance we get and not let him scramble."
The Gamecocks will be looking to do something it hasn't done in 40 years; beat the Tigers two times in a row.
"That's pretty crazy," Ajiboye said. "I don't really know much about the whole rivalry thing because I'm from Georgia, but since I've been here it's been intense. It's the state championship. Somebody's gotta win. We've got to play with passion this week and get focused. We've got to go over there and play 100% and hopefully come out with a ‘W.'"
- Stephon Gilmore is still going through some tests for the concussion he suffered in Saturday's win against Troy. He's doing well and Coach Ward said he expects him to play.
- Marty Markett is day-to-day and has improved from yesterday. If it's up to Markett, he'll play on Saturday.
"All my friends like Clemson and I used to argue with them all the time when Carolina would win," Markett said. "We used to watch it all the time and made a big deal out of it so I'm excited to get to play in it."
- Demario Jeffery suffered a leg bruise but is fine and will play.
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