Swinney focus is on state championship
For the first time since 1908, Clemson did not play its annual game against South Carolina in 2020.
The two teams are scheduled to renew their rivalry Saturday night in Columbia.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday he is excited to have the game back on the schedule.
“It’s good to have the state championship game back in play,” Swinney said at his weekly press conference. “I think a lot of people missed it, on both sides. I look forward to heading down to Columbia. It will be a great game and great environment.”
The two teams were unable to meet last year after the Southeastern Conference announced a 10-game, conference-only schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to play the game last year,” Swinney said. “We would have played at home, and you never want to lose a home game. It didn’t make sense to me to go conference only, I felt like there should have been some exceptions because it means a lot to the people of this state.”
Swinney said he has a great appreciation for rivalry games, having grown up in Alabama where residents are strictly Roll Tide or War Eagle.
“When Clemson and South Carolina play, it impacts everyone,” Swinney said. “They’re going to talk about
it at church, at dinner and at their Thanksgiving gettogethers. Rivalry games are fun to be a part of, but it is better if you win.”
The Gamecocks just earned their sixth win of the season after defeating Auburn 21-17 Saturday night. South Carolina improved its record to 5-1 at home this year.
“This is a good team,” Swinney said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, playing physical and playing with a ton of effort. I think that is a reflection of what Shane (Beamer) has been able to do in a short amount of time.”
“They have been able to find an identity on offense,” Swinney said. “Their quarterback (Jason Brown) has come in and settled them down; he’s playing with a lot of poise. He throws the ball well, and they have found a formula that makes them successful. From our standpoint, it is
critical that we take care of the ball and not give them short fields. I’m excited about the challenge.”
Swinney said turnovers have been the key to success in the rivalry. The Tigers have won six consecutive games against their rival, but had lost five in a row previously. Swinney said it came down to protecting the ball.
“During that losing streak, we had 15 turnovers compared to just three for them,” Swinney said. “In a game like this, those things will beat you.”
Clemson is coming into the game on a four-game winning streak, including a 4827 victory over ACC Atlantic Division leader Wake Forest. The Tigers can still claim the division championship, and a spot in the ACC title game, with a Wake Forest loss to Boston College and an N.C. State loss to North Carolina.
“We’re just focused on what we can control,” Swinney said. “We’ve done all we can (when it comes to the division). To come from where we were, and still have a chance, I think that’s a great accomplishment, but our focus is on trying to win the state championship.”
Clemson’s offense went for nearly 550 yards against the Demon Deacons Saturday, including 333 yards rushing. Swinney said the game is beginning to slow down for some of the young offensive players.
“This is the way the offense is supposed to be,” Swinney said of the performance against Wake Forest. “Execution-wise and precision were there (Saturday), and it was great to see. We have a lot of young players that have had to play this season, and it will pay huge dividends for us. There is a good foundation going into the future.”
Clemson finished the regular season unbeaten at home but must travel for the regularseason finale this weekend.
“We’ve played on the road several times this year, and haven’t played a complete game yet,” Swinney said. “That’s what it will take this weekend, but this is game 12, our team knows what to expect. All we can do is focus on what we can control and have great preparation. It comes down to doing your job.”
Clemson and South Carolina are scheduled to meet Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network.