When South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson turns on the game film of Clemson, he recognizes the names and numbers of the Tigers defensive linemen but not the way they are playing.
Clemson starts four seniors on the defensive line, led by end Vic Beasley, who is one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, which goes to the best offensive or defensive lineman in college football.
“Those guys are really active up front,” Thompson said. “They have a lot of stuff they try to throw at you, but I think it starts with those guys up front. They are real high-energy guys, play fast and they kind of get everybody going. They are talented. They have been there four years, and they have good energy about them.”
“You can see how their defensive line has gotten better,” South Carolina offensive lineman A.J. Cann agreed.
Tigers defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has 66 tackles (including 6.5 for loss) this season and may be the best interior defensive linemen South Carolina has faced this year, Cann said.
“He’s really quick, got a good first step,” Cann said. “I think all the guys up front are looking forward to it.”
Sophomore Pharoh Cooper, the Gamecocks leading wide receiver with 58 catches for 921 yards and eight touchdowns, remained sidelined for much of Wednesday’s practice but says he will play against the Tigers. Cooper suffered a rib sprain last week against South Alabama.
“I am running pretty good. It hurts a little bit when I bend to the left or bend to the right,” he said. “I have been watching the plays and in the meeting room watching film. I know all the plays, know where to be at it. I ran around a little bit today so it’s not going to affect where I’m going to be at Saturday.”
The Gamecocks will hold their regular Thursday practice on the Thanksgiving holiday. They will have a special meal before the practice, though, hosting children from the Epworth Children’s Home.
“That’s an annual thing for us,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “Our players look forward to it and we do too, coaches do too. Hopefully, the Epworth kids have a good time.”
The Gamecocks will practice Friday in Columbia as well.
“Happy Thanksgiving to all the Gamecocks out there,” Spurrier said. “We’ve got a lot to be thankful for. I told our guys to win these last two was pretty good for where we were, and we’re going to try our best to win one more. We had a pretty good comeback from some things that have happened this year. I’m proud of what our guys have done the last couple games.”
South Carolina’s two defensive captains this season – tackle J.T. Surratt and spur Sharrod Golightly – grew up outside the state and weren’t familiar with the intensity Carolina-Clemson rivalry until they arrived on campus, they said this week.
“Once I got here and experienced it, it was like nothing I have ever seen,” said Surratt, a North Carolina native. “I love this rivalry. Every year I look forward to it. Going into this one, I can’t wait.”
“Of course, Clemson is always in the back of our head,” said Golightly, who is from Georgia. “There is no looking back from it. If you go through it, it is definitely in your blood going forward.
Saturday will be the 400th game of Spurrier’s coaching career. He is 272-125-2 all-time in 30 years of college and professional football.
Cann would join former offensive lineman T.J. Johnson as the only South Carolina players in history to start four varsity victories against Clemson.
“It would be great, it would be an honor,” Cann said of leaving school with four wins over his rival.
Alan Knott (knee) will play against the Tigers, although Clayton Stadnik will start at center.
Players who did not practice or wore yellow jerseys were: WR Matrick Belton (right leg), DE Cedrick Cooper (ankle), OL Donell Stanley (left wrist), RG Mike Matulis (right knee), and CB Rico McWilliams (concussion).