Since he took the South Carolina job almost eight years ago, Steve Spurrier has worked to take the emphasis off the Clemson game 51 weeks out of the year.
This week is the exception.
“It’s a huge game,” the No. 13 Gamecocks coach said Sunday, “maybe one of the biggest games since I’ve been here of our rivalry series.”
Clemson (10-1) is ranked No. 12, making this the second-best matchup in the series’ 109-game history based on cumulative ranking. In 1987, the Gamecocks were ranked No. 12, and the Tigers were ranked No. 8 prior to a 20-7 South Carolina win.
The biggest subplot of the week will be USC’s injuries as quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will be held out of practice at least through the first half of the week and may be unavailable against the Tigers.
Shaw aggravated an existing foot injury, which the team has called a sprain, in the first series of Saturday’s 24-7 win over Wofford.
“He toughed it out and finished and played pretty well overall, but his foot is a little bit of a problem,” Spurrier said. “He probably won’t practice too much this week. We’ll see where it is around Wednesday or Thursday.”
Clowney, who is third in the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss, did not play against the Terriers. He has a right foot injury that has kept him out of practice for the past month and will require surgery following the season. He also has developed a minor case of tendinitis in his left knee, he said following the game.
“Just wait and see where it is Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, see what kind of speed he is up to and see if he’s going to be able to play in this game,” Spurrier said of Clowney’s status.
Questions about their most important offensive and defensive player come at a bad time for the Gamecocks, who are looking for a fourth straight win against the Tigers, something that has happened once (1951-1954).
“I would think they would try to do everything to be ready to play in this one,” Spurrier said. “We will certainly know a lot more about Wednesday. We’ll be ready to play (either way). We’ve got backup players.”
Clemson has a 65-40-4 lead in the history of the series, and Spurrier attributed his team’s recent reversal of that trend to de-emphasizing the rivalry during his tenure.
“I think we take it less seriously than we used to,” he said. “I think they overdid it prior to (me) coming here. When I was hired, there were signs all over the locker room, the dressing room, the coaches’ offices that said, ‘Beat Clemson.’ They were all over the place.”
During his initial tour of the team’s summer booster club meetings, Spurrier was perplexed to hear so many of the team’s fans say they’d trade a win over Clemson for a loss in every other game of the year.
“I said, ‘My thoughts are the opposite. I’d rather win them all and lose to Clemson if that was the choice,’ ” he said. “My belief is you don’t talk about one team the entire year. We take it seriously, but we don’t talk about beating Clemson all year long anymore.”
Just this week.