Gamecock Football analyst Bill Hearn of Instant Radio Rivals gives his thoughts looking back at the 2011 season in regards to where things stand in the Carolina/Clemson Rivalry.
To those of us who witnessed the Carolina-Clemson games of the late 1970s and 1980s, the 2011 game was eerily similar to those battles of the past: a lopsided score of 34-13 with the winning team racking up 420 yards of offense divided evenly with 210 yards rushing and 210 yards passing; just 153 yards allowed by the defense with a mere 70 yards rushing and 83 yards passing, 5 sacks and 2.5 yards per play; and a 14.5 minute advantage in Time of Possession. There was only one twist in this scenario- it was the Gamecocks, and not the Tigers who put up these numbers.
After watching the Gamecocks lose to Clemson in 1988 I jokingly proclaimed that I wanted South Carolina (gulp!) to be like Clemson and have a power running game, an intimidating defense and dominance against our rival. Little did I know that it would "only" take almost a quarter century for this proclamation to come true. Since 1992, when the Gamecocks began play in the SEC and not coincidentally, one year after Clemson's last ACC championship until this season, there has been a gradual but steady shift by both teams away from what had previously been their hallmark in the 70's and 80's when the Gamecocks were known for a finesse offense featuring great skill players and Clemson featured a stout rushing attack and a tough defense. Gamecock fans saw glimpses of improvement in 2000 and 2001 seasons, but it has taken seven years of stability and hard work by Spurrier and staff to truly move Carolina football into a "real" SEC caliber program. This shift finally came full circle during the 2011 season, and my long-forgotten proclamation had finally been realized.
We didn't think about it at the time, but it was actually Danny Ford who in the late 1970s first brought to the state of South Carolina the SEC style of play that Carolina fans now embrace and enjoy. In a era in which college offenses transformed from the I-formation to the Veer and then to the Run and Shoot, Ford remained committed to the principles he learned from Bear Bryant- he featured a power running game, sprinkled in a balanced passing attack and backed it up with a strong kicking game. His offense was complemented by a dominant defense that always sought to control the clock and field position. The result, a 96-29-4 record during his tenure, clearly the most successful stretch of seasons enjoyed by either team. As much I as tried to convince myself that Ford's approach was boring and vanilla it was undeniable that it worked as Carolina struggled to beat Ford's teams, managing just 3 wins and a tie against the Tigers in eleven seasons.
I can't help but think that somewhere on the evening of November 26, 2011 even Danny Ford managed a smile as he and the rest of us witnessed the most dominant performance by the Gamecocks in years, resulting in the first three-game win streak by the Gamecocks over Clemson in four decades. If any team resembled Ford's Tigers of old in recent history it was the 2011 Gamecocks, who literally ran over the Tigers while the Carolina defense completely shut down the Clemson's high octane offense. Next season appears to promise more of the same as the Gamecocks should return an even more powerful and experienced running game anchored by a talented and improving offensive line. Despite losing some of the most talented players in Gamecock history, the Carolina defense appears to be capable of reloading, a concept heretofore unheard of in Columbia. Clemson will return talented skill players at quarterback and receivers, but graduation and early departures could severely deplete their running game as well as their offensive and defensive lines. I have learned long ago to not make predictions or look too far ahead when it comes to the next Clemson game as much can and will happen in eleven months.
Oh yeah, there is one more major achievement the 2011 Gamecocks can accomplish by again emulating a Danny Ford team- beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the state of Florida for their winningest season ever. 23 years may be a long time to wait, but for this Gamecock fan, it has been well worth it.
Bill Hearn- IRR Gamecock Football analyst New Gamecock audio here