On Saturday night, the Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks reignite a college football rivalry that dates back to 1896. The Palmetto Bowl, as the game has come to be known, is an annual competition between South Carolina’s two preeminent football programs. In the 100-plus years since the game was first played, there has been plenty of memorable moments and bad blood spilled. This year’s game should be no different.
This weekend marks the 115th installment of the Palmetto Bowl. Clemson holds the lead with 68 wins to South Carolina’s 42. There have also been four ties in the history of this rivalry. The most recent contest was a blowout, in which the Tigers exposed the Gamecocks defense and won 56-7.
A victory in this year’s game would be especially significant to the Tigers. Beating a hated rival and gaining a year’s worth of bragging rights is always satisfying, but a win for the Tigers on Saturday would make four in a row over the Gamecocks. That means a chance for the Clemson seniors to graduate undefeated against their biggest rival. In essence, a career’s worth of bragging rights.
Additionally, a Clemson victory would be the 100th win for head coach Dabo Swinney and bring his record against South Carolina to an even 5-5. If those aren’t enough incentive for the Tigers to show up, a win would also likely secure a spot in the College Football Playoff after Miami’s loss on Friday.
Of course, the Gamecocks will be looking to play spoiler on Saturday. South Carolina will play hard to keep Swinney and company from achieving those aforementioned milestones or reaching the CFP. While the Gamecocks themselves are out of playoff contention, picking up their ninth win of the season over a highly-ranked rival could put them in the running for a New Year’s Day bowl, a feat the team hasn’t accomplished since 2014.
Clemson won’t have the same advantages they had in last year’s blowout victory. For starters, the Tigers will be traveling into hostile territory this year. Secondly, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has the Gamecocks defense playing much better than the 2016 team. Skai Moore and the rest of the Gamecocks linebacking corps are the strength of the unit, which ranks in the top-50 nationally.
Clemson brings a talented defense of their own to the table. The Tigers currently rank seventh in the nation in total defense. They’ve been plagued by injuries at times throughout the season, but key defenders Dexter Lawrence and Kendall Joseph are returning this weekend to provide a needed boost to the starting lineup.
If there is a weakness in the Clemson defense, it’s their ability to handle spacing in the passing game. It’s something that sophomore Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley and top wideout Bryan Edwards will need to exploit if his team hopes to pull off the upset. Clemson’s only loss on the season came at the hands of the Syracuse Orange, who were able to execute that game plan to perfection, albeit against a much less healthy and focused Clemson team.
For the Tigers, their key to victory will be exploiting South Carolina’s run defense. The Gamecocks have given up nearly twice as many rush yards to teams with winning records this season. The Tigers have found great success on the ground this season, thanks to the rushing ability of quarterback Kelly Bryant and running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster. An offensive game plan heavily featuring those three should yield positive results for the Tigers. It also helps that Bryant and top wideout Deon Cain are coming off their best game together as a duo. Their connection should help take the top off the Gamecocks defense following a healthy dose of the ground game.
With so much on the line between these two bitter enemies on Saturday, this year’s Palmetto Bowl could be another classic installment in one of college football’s oldest and best rivalries. Will the Tigers playoff hopes remain in tact? Or will the Gamecocks pull off a most-upsetting victory? We will find out come Saturday night’s 7:30 kickoff from Williams-Brice Stadium.
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