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Game Preview: South Carolina vs. Clemson

The Palmetto Bowl is back.

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

After COVID brought an end to college football’s third-longest consecutive rivalry in 2020, the Palmetto Bowl cranks back up again tomorrow night under the lights in Williams-Brice Stadium. After securing a big win against Auburn that made the Gamecocks bowl eligible for the first time since 2018, South Carolina fans are looking at the Big Game with more eagerness than they have in years, especially since Clemson will bring a surprisingly vulnerable team to Columbia. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect.

What have they been up to lately? Gamecock fans have been watching Clemson with much interest and much schadenfreude this year, as the Tigers opened the season with a loss in a high-profile battle against Georgia and then continued to tumble out of playoff contention — and the rankings — from there, requiring multiple, last-second heroics to beat the likes of Georgia Tech and Boston College while fielding a shockingly anemic offense. Unfortunately, the Tigers seem to have gotten it together recently, finally putting up some points and grabbing a big 48-27 win over Wake Forest (read that a few more times; 2021 has been a wild season of college football). Sitting at 8-3, the Tigers will be going for their seventh straight win against South Carolina and looking to end what’s been a disappointing, up-and-down season on a high note.

What happens when the Gamecocks have the ball? The South Carolina offense vs. the Clemson defense, particularly along the line of scrimmage, will likely be the matchup that determines the game — which, uh, is concerning to say the least. The Gamecock offensive line will need to channel every bit of its performance against Florida and Auburn to slow what has still been a very good Tigers defensive front, and Jason Brown will need to continue to show his improvisational skills and make things happen for the Gamecocks. It’d also be great if the staff committed to running ZaQuandre White, who has far and away been the standout running back lately but has also been splitting carries.

What happens when the Tigers have the ball? Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, Dr. Pepper hype man, has had a rough go of it this year when it comes to replicating the success of consecutive generational talents at his position. Clemson is also coming into this game missing not only star wideout Justyn Ross, but damn near the entire receiving corps. On the other hand, running back Will Shipley has jumpstarted the Tigers’ rushing attack, which is another area of concern for the Gamecocks after they’ve spent back-to-back weeks of yielding large chunks on the ground to opposing star tailbacks. Containing the run and forcing Uiagalelei to command the game is South Carolina’s best bet here.

What are we wearing? Big game garnet, I hope; let’s keep that rolling and channel the old fivepeat days. In lieu of the usual uniform hype video, here’s a great one the @GamecockFB account put out for Thanksgiving in case you missed it. Warning: Tissues may be required.

How are we feeling about this? Not gonna lie, I’ve been waffling all week. My heart says this Gamecock team has made a genuine turnaround and is playing with a passion we haven’t seen since prior to the Muschamp era; my head says that Clemson is still too talented and deep, despite being the most beatable version of the Tigers we’ve seen in several years. My hope is that, no matter what happens, South Carolina brings a respectable effort; even a little could go a long way toward shoring up Beamer’s recruiting credibility, and bring us into bowl season with reason to believe better days are ahead. I think there will be a special atmosphere in Willy-B tomorrow night, and hopefully this team can ride that emotion to a strong end of the year, however that ends up looking.