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Behind enemy bylines: Clemson vs. South Carolina

South+Carolina+quarterback+Spencer+Rattler+%287%29+will+take+on+Clemson+for+the+first+time+in+his+career+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+26%2C+2022.%26%23160%3B
Erica Hoduck // Provided

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) will take on Clemson for the first time in his career on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. 

Ahead of Clemson football’s matchup with South Carolina on Saturday, Justin Robertson, the sports editor of The Tiger, spoke to Lawson Murrell, the sports editor of South Carolina’s student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock.

Justin Robertson (JR): What does the rivalry between the two schools mean for South Carolina’s student body?

Lawson Murrell (LM): It’s so hard to put into words, honestly. Growing up in South Carolina — I’ve been around it my whole life — and there really is bad blood, it’s true. But I think it’s, overall, a really healthy rivalry. I mean, the blood drive and all the other things that go along with it, the whole Palmetto series across all the different sports, I’ve seen coaches hired and fired for winning or losing the Carolina-Clemson rivalry game. So it really is a huge deal in the state and almost a benchmark for any coach that’s going to come through once they get their first win. It’s always really exciting and makes for some good football. I can’t say enough. It’s my favorite game of the year.

JR: What’s the biggest strength of South Carolina that Clemson could have some trouble with?

LM: I think throughout the whole year, the biggest strength for the team has definitely been special teams. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. The offense has been really up and down. The defense, with a lot of injuries and setbacks, is still kind of growing into their role. But I think in ESPN’s special teams efficiency category, South Carolina is the first in the country.

So you know, Kai Kroeger, the punter, he has one of the best punting averages. He only punted once this past weekend, but usually, he gets more action. We’ve seen a couple of kickoffs and punts taken back for touchdowns this year. Josh Vann is one of the leading returners in the SEC. Mitch Jeter, the field goal kicker, he’s perfect. He hasn’t missed this season. Overall, Pete Lembo really has that unit operating at a high clip. And we’ve seen it through the two blocked kicks early in the season against Texas A&M. That unit is definitely a difference-maker for South Carolina.

JR: What’s one of the Gamecocks’ weaknesses that Clemson can take advantage of?

LM: I think it’s probably the run defense. The run defense has been pretty spotty this year. Those defensive injuries that I mentioned earlier kind of have come back to bite the Gamecocks. They don’t have very much depth on the defensive end. And obviously, Will Shipley is very talented. I think they’ll have a lot of trouble keeping him contained this weekend.

JR: Who are some of the star players Clemson fans should look out for on Saturday?

LM: Even though it’s been an up-and-down year for him, Spencer Rattler showed against Tennessee who he is and what he can do. I think if (Marcus) Satterfield and Beamer keep the offense open and let him kind of get after it and air the ball out, (Rattler) is definitely going to be a difference-maker in the game. And Antwane Wells Jr., the transfer wide receiver, came in this season and is the leading wide receiver for South Carolina and is always making an impact. 

Then on the other side of the ball, I would say true freshman defensive back Nick Emmanwori. He actually got ejected for a targeting call in the second quarter of the Tennessee game. But he’s the leading solo tackler, not only on the team but in the SEC this season. A really big impact there right out of high school.

JR: Coming off a Top 5 win over Tennessee last week, how do you think the Gamecocks will stay composed and focused while preparing for Clemson?

LM: I think it’s going to be an especially tricky week. After the team got ranked earlier in the year, that next week, they kind of just delivered a complete goose egg against Missouri. The offense never got anything going, and the defense—they were looking like Tennessee’s defense out there. 

But I think it’ll be tough for Beamer because he’s going to have some players that got this all wrapped up, “If we can beat Tennessee like that, Clemson is no problem.” And then there will be guys on the other side of the spectrum thinking, “Well, maybe that was a fluke. Maybe we don’t have what it takes to go into Death Valley.” So it’s going to be a big undertaking for Beamer to keep everyone level-headed. But after that performance, I think there’s a lot to build on. And the team as a whole, I think, will feel confident in what they can do going into the Saturday game.

JR: Who do you think will win and why?

LM: I think Clemson is going to win at home. They’ve been hearing all season about how they’re not how they’ve been the past few years. This is the game of the season. So, Dabo knows just as well as anyone that he’s got to win this one. I think it’ll be close, though. I don’t think it’s going to look like last year. I think Clemson wins 35-31. 

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Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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