In his fifth season, Lou Holtz has brought the Gamecocks' and her fans from the dispair of a 1-21 losing streak to the great expectations of a fanbase gone mad. Two Outback Bowl wins, two Top 10 recruiting classes - and today is the day it is supposed to all show to the masses. The milestone. The telling tale.
Everything is supposed to play in favor of Holtz's squad tonight. He has homefield advantage, better talent, a deeper roster and the security of a contract extension - a public vote of confidence.
Comparing records is useless in this series, although, the better team usually wins. Yet that is where the questions begin, the doubts are raised - those which must be erased. For it is generally considered fact that the Gamecocks have had the better teams two out of the four times that this game has been played since Holtz's arrival. Some say three out of four, yet Holtz is 1-3 verses the enemy from the north?
Tonight, on national TV, Lou and Crew will once again march onto the gridiron to do battle for the honor of his legions of Garnet and Black followers. A legion that is shrinking with each disappointing defeat of recent past. Tonight a win would reaffirm Lou's mastery of such crucial battles. A battle which must be won convincingly if the war is to ever be considered winnable in the long run - the overall record balanced - dominance established - bragging rights awarded through consecutive years.
Victory tonight would catapult the Gamecock squad into a renued promise that next season may bring. A win would send USC to some far away place for the holidays, ensuring the close losses of the 2003 campaign to be forgiven and forgotten by most.
A loss ... unthinkable. Unacceptable. Sure to turn the gala crowd of Gamecock fans in attendance or watching or listening into a mob rife and ripe to revolt. It can happen and it will should the contest not end in favor of the hometown boys in the better colors. Gala crowds with the expectations of the one gathering tonight are not to be treated lightly. Coach Holtz would do well to understand as much - and in the process summon all of his coaching magic, his experience and ability to motivate, and take his more talented and battle tested troops into this so-called 'game' with the intent of inflicting damage to his enemy. Of not letting up - of applying the boot to the neck. Because make no mistake about it, Clemson and her fans are the enemy tonight. And history teaches us that gathered groups of emotional beings can and will quickly turn their mindsets from festively anxious occasions, ones of exuberance and joy as they watch THEIR victory unfold ... or ones of anger and rage as their expectations are unmet. Promises unkept.
It is how my family came upon our last name - as hangmen some eight-hundred years ago in Europe. And it is how this crowd will be remembered tonight, metaphorically speaking, should Holtz fail to understand the importance of this 'must win' game and once again walk away beaten. The fanatics will revolt. Defeat is not an option tonight.
Lou Holtz understands the bitterness of this rivalry no matter how he may detest its simpleton core. Second only to the Auburn-Alabama rivalry in intensity and pure nastiness, Lou knows that the entire season rides on this game and thus to some lesser extent - his legacy.
This University of South Carolina football team is superior to that of Clemson's. The Gamecocks are bigger and faster in the trenches. Deeper and more talented are the Cocks' running backs. Worthy and able the wide receivers. More experienced, and more physical at linebacker - with a senior and junior laden secondary. All battle tested in the SEC wars.
Tonight's USC squad will be the healthiest to take the field since the 2003 campaign began. And the game is being fought in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice ... The Cock Pit.
The Gamecocks will win. There are and will be no excuses. This game will go to the ones that want it the most - the ones that have been schooled best in the importance of the immediate occasion.
South Carolina will come out of the tunnel with every intention of exercising its physical superiority over the Tigers. They will bring pressure up the middle on defense while challenging the Clemson wide-outs to play short ball - forcing quick attempts from a two-step drop. Cosh's Corp will bring it all-out from the ends in an effort to rattle Whiteside early - to take him out of his game from the opening bell. And on offense the battle cry for USC will be run run run ... then throw the ball. Accept the challenge from the Tigers to go to the air. And it is the ariel attack of the Gamecocks that will make the difference - a surprise for the Garnet and Black hordes - the shocker to those garbed in Orange.
Execution will be the keyword of the day for the Gamecocks. How they execute the gameplan, how the players follow direction - staying focused, limiting mistakes, is how USC's fortunes will unfold tonight.
This may be a high scoring game even if the Gamecocks totally dominate time of possession. And it could easily come down to who has the ball last ... one driving slowly and methodically, or the other in a two-minute drill frantically fighting for one last occupation of the opponent's endzone.
The Gamecocks will win if they shut down the Clemson running game. Yes, the Clemson running game. If they force the Tigers into an unbalanced attack. That is the key to this must win game for the Gamecocks.
Forty years ago today. Remember where you were? So many currrent Gamecock fans were not yet born - but so many of us were. I was a ten year old preparing for my first Carolina-Clemson game to be played the next day. I was at school in the middle of a heated debate with a fellow classmate, another ten year old, about who would win the game the next day.
I would have to wait - we all would. For on this day forty years ago JFK was assasinated, and like the week of 9/11, all college football games were cancelled.
The Game would be played five days later on November 28th, a Thursday, in Columbia and it was a contest won by Clemson 24-20. South Carolina had beaten Maryland earlier in the season, and tied Virginia 10-10 ... I remember that game well. But heading into the Clemson game USC was 1-7-1 - the President of the United States had been murdered only six days earlier ... and still this game meant more than anything happening in the world at that moment. I remember some of the men in my neighborhood being angry that 'The Game' had been postponed because of the assassination - it was my first coherent understanding of the importance of this rivalry. How it somehow transcended everything else for one day each year.
Forty years later the only thing that has changed with regard to this game is that it has grown more intense, more bitter and heated. It is a rivalry in the truest sense of the word. Hopefully Lou understands.
- Jeremy Gallo