COLUMBIA - South Carolina has one motto and one mission this week: "Never again."
The Gamecocks (8-3), frustrated and embarrassed, hatched the motivational phrase shortly after their demoralizing 56-7 loss to rival Clemson a year ago. The large, orange clad crowd at Death Valley roared as the Tigers, who put several marquee players back in the game for a curtain call in the fourth quarter, including quarterback Deshaun Watson and receiver Mike Williams. The players locked arms in the huddle and rocked back and forth to the cheers.
South Carolina has not forgotten that moment.
"We owe them," Gamecocks defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth said.
The Gamecocks have lost three straight to the fourth-ranked Tigers (10-1, No. 2 CFP), a streak they'll try and end Saturday night in the annual season finale. A South Carolina win would also all but eliminate defending national champs Clemson from making another run in the College Football Playoff.
Offensive guard Cory Helms said the team is attempting to handle game preparations like normal, although sometimes it's hard. He said the Gamecocks understand Clemson's high stakes and how important a win would mean to South Carolina's rising profile.
"We'd obviously enjoy" knocking the Tigers from the playoffs, Helms said. "But we'd enjoy beating Clemson, too. They've gotten us several years in a row. We're just focused on treating this as a normal game."
That's easier said than done.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was visibly shaken a short time after the defeat, pledging the work to improve would start immediately. The Gamecocks have set several recent high-water marks this year, finishing second in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and getting their most victories since 2013.
A rivalry win would highlight a resurgent season.
Linebacker Skai Moore was a freshman in the Gamecocks last series win, part of an unprecedented rivalry run of five straight South Carolina victories. No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney led that group, which carried a winning edge into any contest, particularly Clemson, Moore said.
"That's the type of edge we've got to bring, definitely," Moore said.
Center Alan Knott can't help remembering Clemson's celebrations and bravado as last year's game finished up.
"It was not good sportsmanship in my opinion," Knott said. "We're going to get our revenge this year."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said no matter what's said or done, the game will be played on the field. "It would be disappointing if anything takes away from how great this game is," he said.
Muschamp played film of last year's game, not to remind, but to motivate. "Last year we has some guys that flat out didn't compete when adversity," Muschamp said.
That has not been the case this season.
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley struggled as a freshman at Death Valley a year ago. He was sacked twice, harassed constantly and threw for just 41 yards before coming out. This time, Bentley comes in having led the Gamecocks to five wins in their past six games.
"I think year I know more," said Bentley, who leads South Carolina with six rushing TDs.
South Carolina cornerback Jamarcus King believes he knows more, as well. He was part of the one of last year's most memorable plays from the game from the wrong standpoint as King was carried about seven yards into the end zone on a touchdown grab by Clemson's Williams.
King used the clip - he grabs Williams at the 7 yard line, then can't get him down - as fuel in the spring. The senior has 31 tackles and leads the Gamecocks in pass breakups.
King vowed he "won't get carried" several yards this weekend.
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