COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina defensive tackle Nathan Pepper doesn't parse his words when he is asked about last year's 17-point loss to Clemson that wasn't even that close.
"It was embarrassing," the senior said of the Gamecocks lackluster effort on a cold, rainy day.
That loss was part of three uninspiring defeats in a row for last year's team. Now, with a year to stew on things, South Carolina is in the midst of another late-season swoon, losing their past three in 2009.
Since a spot in Southeastern Conference game was gone a month ago, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said his weekend's game against the Tigers is now the biggest of the season.
"No question about it. I don't know how else bigger it can be," said coach Steve Spurrier on Tuesday. "I know it's the biggest one for our fans. We know the history."
That history is heavily titled toward Clemson. The Tigers have won six out of the last seven and 10 out of the last 12. The Gamecocks have won just once at home in the past 10 games in Columbia.
Spurrier has beaten Clemson just once in four tries since arriving at South Carolina. In fact, the last Gamecocks coach with two wins over the Tigers in their career is Brad Scott, South Carolina head coach from 1994 to 1998 and now a Clemson assistant. Before that, Joe Morrison beat the Tigers twice in 1984 and 1987.
Last year's loss was especially ugly. Clemson came into the game needed a win to be bowl eligible and trying to get coach Dabo Swinney the job permanently.
Twenty-six minutes in, the Tigers led 24-0. They forced then-starter Chris Smelley into four interceptions. Clemson ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns. C.J. Spiller had 88 yards, including a dazzling 35-year run that had three of the Gamecocks best defenders grabbing at nothing, while Jacoby Ford caught a 50-yard TD pass just as the quarterback was sinking to his knees.
"It was definitely tough and embarrassing the way we went out there, letting them kind of run all over us, letting Spiller get loose and letting Ford get loose on us," Pepper said.
After the loss to Florida two weekends ago, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia called the Clemson game a must win. The sophomore hasn't talked to reporters since, but wide receiver Moe Brown said he can't argue with his QB and expects a better effort Saturday.
"You don't want to lose anyway, but you want to lose with effort and feel like the other team beat you rather than you beat yourself," Brown said.
One thing Spurrier doesn't have the answer for is why the rivalry is so lopsided. The Gamecocks won the first game in 1896. Clemson began a four-game winning streak the next year ,and the Tigers have owned a wining record over South Carolina ever since. Clemson has a 65-37-4 advantage all time, winning 20 more games in Columbia than its biggest rival.
"The only answer I can say is maybe they've had better teams than South Carolina, over the years. People always ask me how we'd start beating Georgia all of a sudden," Spurrier said of his Florida teams. "I say because we had better teams in the 90s. So maybe that's an answer, I don't know."