CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst had no idea at the beginning of the year he would be starting in the Tigers' biggest game of the season.
But the redshirt freshman is confident after throwing for nine touchdowns in three starts and said Tuesday the Tigers (6-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) must beat rival South Carolina in the teams' 100th meeting.
"I wasn't real sure until I got here what this is all about," the Georgia native said. "I know what this means in the state of South Carolina so we'll be ready."
The game has big implications for both teams. The Tigers are trying to improve their bowl bid while the Gamecocks (5-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference native) need a win just to become bowl-eligible.
Linebacker John Leake said nothing would be sweeter than to end South Carolina's postseason chances.
"I think if we beat them they don't go to a bowl, so it's a real big deal," the junior said.
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden knows the Gamecocks are struggling but says South Carolina's four-game losing streak doesn't matter in one of the nation's oldest rivalries.
"After being involved with some rivalries of this nature, I don't think that's going to be significant for either team," the third-year Clemson coach said. "Both teams are going to be highly emotional and charged."
Whitehurst said it will be key for him to keep his composure.
"You have to try to stay calm as best you can, but it's such a big game it's hard to do," he said.
Bowden said a loss would be devastating for the Tigers and described last year's 20-15 defeat in Columbia as an "empty feeling."
"I don't drink, never have, but it comes close to forcing you to drink," he said.
The Tigers do have history on their side. South Carolina hasn't defeated Clemson two consecutive years since the 1969-70 season and the Tigers hold a 59-36-4 edge in the series.
But no historian could have predicted that both teams would start young quarterbacks who were expected to be playmakers next season. Whitehurst replaced Willie Simmons three games ago when the Tigers offense became bogged down and Dondrial Pinkins made his first start last week in South Carolina's 28-7 loss against No. 19 Florida.
Bowden said the Gamecocks' late-season quarterback swap shouldn't surprise his defense because Pinkins is so similar to Corey Jenkins - both quarterbacks have opted to run more than throw.
"I don't think their offense is going to change that much," he said.
Leake said the defense will have to cut down on the big plays and stick to their assignments if the Gamecocks' run the option.
"You can't miss it because if you're doing somebody else's job, there goes a big run," he said.
Bowden said he expects a low-scoring game like recent years because both offenses have struggled.
But Clemson offensive lineman William Henry said anything can happen in a big rivalry game.
"We want to earn our way into a good bowl," Henry said. "I can't wait until Saturday."