South Carolina rolling heading into rivalry game vs. Clemson
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina has won four of its past five games in a second-half revival of its season. Left guard Zack Bailey doesn't see why that has to end against No. 4 Clemson.
''They're just another team, that's all it is,'' Bailey said Tuesday. ''Anyone can be beaten at any time.''
Topping the Tigers (10-1, No. 4 CFP) seems like a tall order, even for the resurgent Gamecocks (6-5) who took down then 18th-ranked Tennessee last month in doubling their win total from a year ago. But It's not, Bailey said, not as long as the young Gamecocks don't let the moment – along with the frenzied, sold-out crowd at Death Valley – rattle them.
''We've just got to be mentally focused, that's the biggest thing,'' he said. ''Know our assignments and do our job.''
Clemson has certainly opened the door at times this year for less-talented teams to hang in games at Memorial Stadium.
Troy scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Clemson's 30-24 victory in September. A month later, North Carolina State missed a last-second, 33-yard field goal for the win before the Tigers won in overtime. And then two weeks ago, it was Pitt's Chris Blewitt with a 48-yard field goal at the end to lift the Panthers to a 43-42 upset at Clemson for its lone loss this year.
''In some of their past games, there are teams that have walked in there under those same circumstances and they've put it to them,'' Bailey said.
First-year coach Will Muschamp has put focus on the Clemson rivalry all year, continually reminding players ''to win the state.''
''It's not going to take a flawless effort; it's not going to take anything spectacular. We just need to go play well,'' Muschamp said.
South Carolina charge began last month with the team 2-4 and struggling mightily on offense. Gamecocks first-year coach Will Muschamp put quarterback Jake Bentley – coaches planned for the freshman to redshirt – into the lineup and the spark was immediate.
Bentley threw two touchdown passes (the Gamecocks had only two scoring throws its first six games) in a 34-28 win over UMass, then led a 24-21 upset of then 18th-ranked Tennessee. The team's only defeat in that stretch was in their only road game under Bentley, a 20-7 defeat two weeks back at No. 13 Florida.
The quarterback's teammates say Bentley, a freshman who Muschamp has not yet allowed to speak with the media, won't be fazed by the frenetic atmosphere.
''He's 18 years old, but walks in there with the confidence of a fifth-year senior,'' tight end Hayden Hurst said. ''I don't expect anything different out of Jake.''
Bentley left high school a year early to enroll at South Carolina this summer. He'll turn 18 on Wednesday.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Bentley is ''not your typical freshman.''
Bentley's father, Bobby, is the running backs coach at South Carolina. He was also a coach at Byrnes High that won four state championships and produced South Carolina record-setter, ex-tailback Marcus Lattimore.
Jake Bentley has two brothers who've played college football. Chad Dodd was a former Rutgers starting quarterback while Shuler Bentley is a QB at Old Dominion.
''He is obviously well-groomed to be a very successful college quarterback,'' Swinney said.
Jake Bentley's been helped by other rising young players on South Carolina's offense. Freshman Rico Dowdle has surpassed 100 yards rushing in three of the past four games, going for 226 yards in last week's win over Western Carolina. Sophomore Deebo Samuel tops receivers with 41 catches, all but 10 of those coming with Bentley at quarterback, for 579 yards.
Samuel, who had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in last week's win over Western Carolina, said his focus is on continuing the streak and spoiling Clemson's chances of returning to the playoffs.
''We're going out there with a little more energy trying to ruin their season,'' Samuel said.
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