Somehow week 12 arrived.

South Carolina goes into its annual matchup last week with No. 9 Clemson, who has as much momentum as the Gamecocks under Shane Beamer. Eviscerate then-No. 5 Tennessee has that effect on a program.

Now, however, it’s trying to end a seven-game losing streak against its state rival.

“I think when you look at her (Clemson) Year after year they get better and better as the season progresses,” said Beamer. “Another 10-win season for them. Another opportunity to win an ACC championship. And that’s not easy. I know everyone just thinks you should roll the ball out and win every Saturday. They get the best shot of everyone every week in this league because they did it.”

If South Carolina has a chance Saturday, it’ll need more of the Spencer Rattler we saw against Tennessee last week than the version we’ve seen in the 10 weeks prior.

Rattler was completely unconscious against the volunteers. He completed 30 of 37 passes for 438 yards. His six touchdown passes set a school record. The “sacred cow” throws that made him a Heisman Trophy contender during his time in Oklahoma came almost every other throw.

South Carolina had been waiting for a night like this – one where Rattler could just explode and win you a football game. That’s exactly what he did.

Next comes the encore.

Clemson’s runner-up ranks sixth in the SEC in pass defense but has been vulnerable at times this fall. The Tigers have also conceded 36 passing plays from 20+ yards, which would rank 11th in the Southeastern Conference.

“It was a bit of a surprise, I think,” Steve Spurrier, ex-South Carolina head coach, told The State this week. “But Spencer Rattler – he looked like a Heisman Trophy guy. It’s the best he’s played all year.”

Where South Carolina has to help, Rattler gets into the trenches. The Tigers’ defensive line is as good as it gets in college football.

KJ Henry, Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis are likely to be signed for the NFL sooner or later, and each of them presents their own challenge in protection.

To his credit, the Gamecocks’ offensive line failed in pass protection against Tennessee. However, given Beamer’s almost two-year history, that feels more like an anomaly than the norm.

South Carolina will have to find a way to keep Rattler upright if it has a chance Saturday.

“Your front seven is really, really good,” USC tight end Nate Adkins said of Clemson. “Every single defenseman could play in the NFL, as could their linebackers.”

That the Gamecocks’ offense grabbed the most headlines last week is almost unfair to a defense that mostly held a wildly explosive offense in Tennessee at bay, despite the Volunteers racking up over 500 yards of offense.

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has had intermittent troubles in 2022, and pressure from five-star rookie Cade Klubnik has seen him relinquish control of offense to his supposed understudy a time or two this fall.

Uiagalelei has always had talent. His arm is a rocket. He is a tall, physical runner who can go downhill. But the consistency was never there.

South Carolina ranks fourth in the SEC for takeaways this year (17). Don’t be surprised if they force Uiagalelei and the Clemson offense into a handful of turnovers.

“He went through pretty much what I went through on OU,” Rattler said of the criticism that has dogged Uiagalelei over the past nearly two seasons. “He’s a great guy. Her family did a good job too. He has experienced a lot of unfair treatment. He’s a great player and he’s doing a lot of good for them.”

Last week’s win over Tennessee was an all-time win. Fans stormed the field. Players noted that they will remember the moments for the rest of their lives. South Carolina can make this run even more iconic with a win in Death Valley on Saturday.

I just don’t see it happening.

The Gamecocks had all sorts of trouble stopping the run against the Tigers a year ago. As hard as Uiagalelei struggled, Dam Will Shipley is in the herd and he’s anticipating another big play against a defense struggling to slow down opposing runners.

South Carolina should stay there, but I think Clemson’s running game makes all the difference.

– Prediction: Clemson 28, South Carolina 17 –

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Ben Portnoy is the football beat writer for The State’s South Carolina Gamecocks. He is a five-time Associated Press Sports Editors Award recipient and has received recognition from the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered the state of Mississippi for Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana Football for the Journal Gazette at Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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