Dabo Swinney believes this five-year run by Steve Spurrier and South Carolina was fated by divine intervention.
“For whatever reason, God chose me to be the coach at Clemson during the greatest era in the history of South Carolina football,” Swinney said Tuesday. “Coach Spurrier’s legacy speaks for itself. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s a great football coach and has been for a long time.
“To me, what he has done at South Carolina is his legacy,” he said. “They’ve been really good. That’s the other thing. Everybody just wants to get mad at Clemson. Nobody wants to give South Carolina credit. They’ve been really good.
“I don’t like that, but we have to worry about Clemson and trying to get this thing turned back in the direction we want it here.”
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Opening as a four-point favorite for Saturday’s noon game in Death Valley, Clemson’s strength all season has been a defense that’s been one of the most efficient in the game. Questions persist on offense, where the starting quarterback could provide clarity. If freshman Deshaun Watson starts and plays, Clemson would be a decisive favorite.
“I’m not trying to have some conspiracy or anything like that. We just don’t know,” Swinney said. Watson sustained a sprained knee ligament and bone bruise in the first quarter of the Georgia Tech game and sat out last week. He returned to practice Monday with a knee brace. His ability to handle the work Tuesday and Wednesday would determine the extent of his availability, Swinney said.
“It may be a decision that’s game time. I don’t know, but he is getting better each day,” Swinney said, adding that, at this stage of the season, no player is fully free of pain. “As long as he can do the things that we need him to do to win the game, he’s our starter.
“He’s got to be able to do those things. We can’t change our offense. He’s got to be able to play and execute. He’s got to be able to escape. He has to be able to run our system.”
Swinney understands the magnitude of the series, which was why he agreed to the countdown clock since August that players see daily.
“We all live and die with this one all year long,” he said, pointing out that since neither team’s season met expectations, fans place an additional burden on this game. “It’s always big. We can win Saturday, and guess what? Next year it will be just as big. It’s a big game every year.”
Asked if these games weighed on him, Swinney shook his head.
“We’ve just got to turn it around,” he said “The reality is we’ve lost five in a row, and nobody’s happy about it. We know why.
“To sit here and say that this one game completely discounts everything that’s been accomplished at Clemson the last six years is crazy,” Swinney said. “That’s really a lack of respect for our players for what they’ve been able to do.
“We’re always trying to get better, and this is an area we’ve got to get better. There is no doubt about it, but to say that it just takes away from everything we’ve accomplished, I think that’s a very narrow way to look at it.”
Asked if he imagines this could be the final time he faces Spurrier, Swinney said the 69-year old Gamecocks coach could probably go for another 30 years.
“My father-in-law is 70, my dad is 70 and they don’t look like coach Spurrier,” Swinney said. “He has done a nice job of taking care of himself.
“I think he’ll coach as long as he wants to and go out on his terms, and he deserves to be able to do that,” he said. “I need a few more years. I’ve got to try to catch him before he gets out of here.”
Swinney favored the noon kickoff, not the favorite starting time for students and fans with a distance to travel.
“Shoot, man. Let’s get up and play,” he said. “That clock’s been ticking for a year.”