South Carolina vs. Clemson: Storylines

It's time for the rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson to take center stage on Saturday night, as the Gamecocks travel to Death Valley for the big showdown with the Tigers. The tables have been turned from last season, as this time it is USC that will try to avoid a letdown before heading to their conference championship game.

Carolina brings an 8-3 record into the game, with all three losses coming in conference play. Clemson has stumbled a bit this year, and currently sits at 6-5, having lost four Atlantic Coast Conference games and an out of conference game against Auburn. But CU will have an opportunity to make their season as well as improve their bowl stock when they look to prevent USC from winning two straight in the series since 1969-70.

"It should be a heck of a game up there Saturday night," said coach Steve Spurrier earlier this week. We're looking forward to going up and looking forward to playing well which we have the last two weeks and try not to revert back to some of our games this year. Our guys have had a good attitude. We expect to have some really good, solid practices this week and go up there and give them our best shot. We'll see what happens up there at Clemson."

With a win the Gamecocks could take a 9-3 record and a three game winning streak into the Georgia Dome for the rematch against Auburn, but with a loss they would fall to 8-4 and have to find a way to regain momentum heading to Atlanta.

Young players learning intensity of Palmetto State showdown

For the players that have not played in this game yet, Saturday will be a "baptism by fire" as the young guns will be welcomed into Death Valley by 80,000 hostile Clemson fans. The Gamecocks will obviously be relying heavily on the play of freshman Marcus Lattimore, who will try to get USC going on the ground to key the offense.

For the South Carolina native who grew up in the heart of Clemson country at Byrnes High School, it will be a night to show what he is made of and begin to create his legend in this game.

But Coach Spurrier cautioned that his young guys know this game is about preparation more than anything else, and that changing their routine to cater to the atmosphere is something that cannot happen.

"We haven't played the game yet," added Spurrier. "We approach every game very similarly. Our guys know the importance of this game and the importance of the next game. They're all very important. I think our guys know what we're trying to do. When you say young guys, you're talking about Marcus Lattimore and I think he knows what's happening the next two weeks. Other than that, I don't know how many true freshmen are playing a whole bunch. Ace Sanders, he's playing a bit now. They know it's important but every game is important. This is another week to try to play the best we can and try to improve on last week."

Consistency the key for Gamecocks in Death Valley

South Carolina has won big games this season. And South Carolina has found a way to win on the road. After stumbling early on, USC has overcome several roadblocks, including the one in Gainesville that allowed them to capture the SEC East title.

But perhaps their biggest road test of the season awaits them in Clemson this Saturday night, as they will face a team hungry for a not just a win, but a win that would allow them to regain bragging rights after a 34-17 humbling in Columbia last season.

Although the Clemson faithful will surely be whipped into a frenzy by the time this one kicks off just after 7 p.m., it is fortunate for USC that they have been there before, facing Florida at the same time on November 13th. Night games always produce intense atmospheres, but the Gamecocks will at least be in a familiar place when they try once again to silence an opposing crowd.

"We're going to try to use the same schedule that we went down to Florida – we played at 7 o'clock, 7:06, I think about the same time we played down there," said Spurrier. "We'll just try to stay on the same schedule and hopefully we can play well. If we play well and the other team doesn't play very well, then it's not too loud. If the other team plays well and you don't, it gets real loud. Again, the noise hasn't bothered us much this year. Our guys in the shotgun have been very good. Our offensive line has done a lot better holding the count. Very few false starts this year. We expect to stay onside. Blocking and tackling is probably the main thing we're concerned about. Noise shouldn't affect blocking and tackling. Guys in position, making plays, and doing what they're asked to do with a lot of effort."

Goals being met on the way to Atlanta

With so many goals already having been met, it's a wonder that there are still so many out there for the taking for USC. Over the course of the next two weeks they will have the chance to not only beat Clemson for the second straight year, but also capture the school's first SEC Championship in football.

Both sets of Tigers won't make things easy for South Carolina, but the coaching staff and players alike have continuously showed a belief in each other that they can accomplish these goals.

"It's pretty good where we are right now, with the opportunity of everything that's out there," said Spurrier. "Obviously, we've not been here before. But we did set a goal of getting here. The guys are starting to understand we can still achieve more goals that are out there. We set several goals every year and see how many we can hit. One of them is always beating Clemson. One of them was to win nine games this year. So, we're in position, if we can finish. If we can finish strongly, we have a chance."

No matter what, USC can take some comfort in the fact that they have put themselves in position to play for such lofty achievements. But for all who call themselves Gamecocks, the next two weekends will go a long way toward showing what this program is really capable of.

Players leading by example

Some criticism has been directed at the USC program over the past several years as they suffered through several November collapses and bowl game blowouts that led many to question the leadership of the players under Steve Spurrier.

The 2010 version of November didn't get off on the right foot for South Carolina as they were blown out at home by Arkansas, worrying fans that another late season free-fall might be in store.

But those feelings didn't last long after a 36-14 win over Florida in Gainesville and a 69-24 home blowout over the Troy Trojans. Now the Gamecocks sit a win away from 9-3 and a week away from a trip to Atlanta.

Spurrier has been quick to direct praise to people like new offensive line coach Shawn Elliot as well as strength and conditioning coach Pat Fitzgerald for helping revive the program and lead them to new heights. But it all starts with the players, and Spurrier said a new breed of Gamecock is helping to usher in an era of unprecedented success.

"Oh, I just think the players, the seniors, the leaders on the team," said Spurrier. "And the young guys coming in are also more team-oriented guys. We've got a lot of players that actually played on state championship-winning teams. So, they understand. Marcus up at Byrnes High School. Stephon Gilmore up there at South Pointe. I think those guys are playing for another state championship this year. So, they've all come from maybe some better high school programs than some of the guys in the past."

With talented players like Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery leading by example, Spurrier insisted that it helps the whole team adopt a winning mindset. And if that mindset stays for the next two weeks, Gamecock fans will have a whole lot to crow about.

"But, still, it depends on how the older guys have their attitudes. The way they act and talk and so forth usually rubs off on the young guys. That's been helpful. And when your star players are really team-oriented, that's when you have a chance to really have good teams."

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