Clemson and South Carolina aiming for milestones

By Pete Iacobelli

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 25 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, left rushes for a first down after a long reception, as Citadel defenders pursue during the first half of a NCAA college football game, at Williams-Brice Stadium, in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011.

Brett Flashnick, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Clemson and South Carolina are each ready to make history — and they can't think of a better place to do it than their season-ending rivalry game.

For all the injuries, surprises, milestones and disappointments, the No. 18 Tigers (9-2) and No. 14 Gamecocks (9-2) have the chance for 10 victories — something both programs have sought for decades.

"It's the state championship," Gamecocks defensive end Melvin Ingram said. "Both teams will come out and give it their all."

Just the way they have throughout a pair of surprising seasons.

The Gamecocks were picked by many to return to the Southeastern Conference title game, but they were edged out by Georgia despite beating their five Eastern Division rivals and winning six league games for the first time.

If South Carolina wins Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium, it would mark three straight rivalry wins — something that last happened from 1968-70 — and its first 10-win season since the celebrated "Black Magic" team that went 10-2 in 1984.

The Gamecocks have accomplished it in a totally unexpected way, too.

South Carolina figured to be led by its three offensive playmakers in quarterback Stephen Garcia, tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery. Garcia, however, was kicked off the team for good in October after five previous suspensions, and Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury that same week.

Garcia's departure has put untested sophomore Connor Shaw at quarterback, while freshman Brandon Wilds — a fifth-stringer when the season began — has picked up the slack in the backfield to help the Gamecocks continue winning. Shaw's won five of his six starts and Wilds has rushed for over 100 yards in three of four games since gaining the job.

It's also helped that South Carolina has one of the strongest defenses in the SEC. The Gamecocks are fourth in overall defense and trail only Alabama against the pass.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, not always one to give in, recognized that without Garcia and Lattimore he couldn't count on going downfield the way he loves and retrenched to a ball-control attack.

"We realize that's just not what we can do right now," Spurrier said. "We have been able to run it pretty well, as you know. We've run the ball effectively — not super."

Spurrier still flings his notes when balls sail away from open receivers. Now, though, he dials up three straight runs and usually keeps the ball moving forward.

"As we all know, there's all kind of different ways to win in football, basketball, every sport, really," Spurrier said. "Running the ball, playing very good defense, scoring touchdowns in the red zone is a very good way to win."

Clemson took a different approach and for two months was the talk of college football and a BCS title contender.

First-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris brought in a fast-paced attack built on speed at the skill positions and efficient play at quarterback. That's what the Tigers got in tailback Andre Ellington, receiver Sammy Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd to go 8-0, the team's best start in 11 seasons. The Tigers' youth has shown the past few weeks, with Clemson losing two of three, including a stunning 37-13 loss at North Carolina State.

The sluggish stretch hasn't completely cost Clemson, which is heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in Charlotte, N.C., next week no matter the outcome against the Gamecocks.

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