COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina doesn't need any artificial motivation for Saturday's grudge match against Clemson, but the momentum is missing as the Gamecocks travel to Death Valley for the 100th meeting with the Tigers.
South Carolina has to forget about a four-game Southeastern Conference losing streak and focus on salvaging a 5-6 season that began with much hope and still could lead to a bowl game.
"I think you always want to finish the last game well," coach Lou Holtz said Monday. "I think that we could end up in a bowl, but that's not even our concern right now. Our concern is to play Clemson.
"This is more important for me than a bowl game."
The team, particularly the seniors, feel the same way.
"There are a lot of implications in this game," said senior noseguard Langston Moore. "There's history, recruiting, bragging rights."
And there's the last time South Carolina played in Death Valley. After coming from behind to take a late lead, South Carolina watched Clemson quickly drive into field goal range and win 16-14.
"I'm still bitter from a couple years ago," Moore said of the 2000 battle. "There's all kinds of motivation."
But neither team can claim the momentum as both have had to suffer through disappointing performances.
Clemson (6-5) has lost four high-profile games to ranked teams on national television, including Saturday's 30-12 loss to No. 18 Maryland.
Like South Carolina, Clemson is looking to a young quarterback. Redshirt freshman Charlie Whitehurst exploded in his first start, setting a school record with 420 yards passing and four touchdowns against Duke. He got another 270 yards passing for four touchdown completions against North Carolina.
"When they changed to Whitehurst, their whole offense has just taken on a new dimension," Holtz said. "Whitehurst ... has good knowledge of the game, exceptionally accurate, great poise, strong arm. He is really impressive."
The son of former NFL quarterback David Whitehurst struggled against Maryland, going 12 of 26 for 130 yards.
The Gamecocks also have struggled. Holtz traced the beginning of the downturn to the second half of the LSU game in Baton Rouge, when the Gamecocks watched a 14-6 lead disintegrate into a 38-14 loss.
"It doesn't matter who you lose to, how you lose them, you lose four football games your confidence is down," Holtz said. "As your confidence goes down, your commitment goes down, your focus goes down, your performance goes down.
"It's just sort of a downward spiral that we seem to be in at the present time."
South Carolina wrapped up its SEC season Saturday with a 28-7 loss at Florida - a game that had some bright spots despite the score.
Dondrial Pinkins got his first start at quarterback and managed to lead one scoring drive. He was the game's top rusher with 84 yards and completed 8 of 17 passes for 74 yards.
"There are a couple throws I wish I could have back," Pinkins said. But the experience helps. "Me not turning the ball over ... that was a big confidence booster."
A win Saturday would make the Gamecocks eligible for a bowl, a far cry from the past two years when the team reached six wins by early October.
"If we were to win the football game and end up 6-6, it's a disappointing year after two successful bowl games," Holtz said. "I'm glad the South Carolina fans are disappointed because, boy, I tell you, that's big step in the right direction. That is a big step of expectations."
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