Bentley, Bryant eager to make mark in Palmetto Rivalry
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Clemson’s Kelly Bryant are quarterbacks eager their teams to victory in the Palmetto State’s biggest rivalry.
One will walk from Saturday night’s matchup disappointed.
Bentley will make his second start for the Gamecocks (8-3) against No. 4 Clemson (10-1, No. 3 College Football Playoff), anxious to redeem himself and his team after last year’s disastrous 56-7 embarrassment.
Bryant is the Tigers first-year quarterback who’s steadily climbed from the shadows of national championship passer Deshaun Watson to put Clemson back in College Football Playoff position.
Both South Carolina natives will try and cap stellar regular seasons against each other in the annual tussle between the state’s two biggest FBS programs.
“Obviously, winning the state’s a big deal,” said Bentley, who grew up in the state’s Upstate region . “To be the quarterback who does is a nice thing.”
Bentley’s first chance a year ago ended on the sidelines of a 56-7 blowout after a battering left him throwing for just 41 yards. But Bentley’s a different player his sophomore season. He’s nearly doubled his passing yards (2,429) and TDs (15) from last season and leads the Gamecocks with six rushing touchdowns.
Bryant, from Calhoun Falls, has also left a major mark with the Tigers. Almost everyone wondered if he had what it took to succeed the wondrous Watson, who led the Tigers to the national title game the past two seasons and won the championship last January.
“People just said I had big shoes I have to fill,” Bryant said. “I always would say, ‘I wear a size 16 so I fill big shoes every day.’”
Bryant’s passed for 2,154 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also run for 10 touchdowns, second most on the Tigers.
His importance to the offense was evident last month when Bryant, who has led Clemson to top-15 road wins over Louisville, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State this year, left in the second quarter with a concussion in the Tigers lone loss at Syracuse.
“He’s not some guy that’s been starting here for a couple years,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He just grows every single time.”
Some other things to watch when No. 4 South Carolina plays at South Carolina:
STREAKY SERIES: The Clemson-South Carolina rivalry has been marked by lots of streaks over the past 15 years. The Tigers won four straight games from 2002-05 before the Gamecocks and coach Steve Spurrier won five in row from 2009-13. Clemson has won the past three meetings.
POLL DEBUT: While Clemson’s been part of the top four in every College Football Playoff ranking this season, the Gamecocks made their poll debut this week at No. 24. South Carolina is not ranked in other polls.
COMBINED WINS: The 18 combined wins from Clemson and South Carolina are the second most ever the rivals have had when playing each other. The Tigers and since 19 in 2013. The most wins the two teams have had entering the rivalry is 19 in 2012 and 2013.
MORE MOORE: South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore is a senior and part of the last Gamecocks team who defeated Clemson in 2013. Moore, then a freshman, collected his second career pick in the 31-17 victory. Moore tied the South Carolina career interception mark with his 14th in last week’s win over Wofford.
YOUNG RUNNER: Freshman don’t typically make their mark in the rivalry, but Clemson tailback Travis Etienne might be a difference maker Saturday night. Etienne broke C.J. Spiller’s freshman school touchdown record with 11. Etienne leads the Tigers with 679 yards.
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