Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Forgive South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews if he takes a moment to stop and reflect Thursday night when he soaks in what is sure to be a raucous crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium for the Ole Miss game.
As a high school senior, Matthews was here almost three years ago to the date. He was in the stands visiting South Carolina for a Thursday night ESPN game against No. 2-ranked Auburn in 2006.
The Gamecocks lost 24-17, but won themselves the top prospect in the state that night thanks to the electric atmosphere.
Matthews, who turned down offers from Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee to sign with the Gamecocks, says it’s the loudest stadium he’s ever heard. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told him afterward that the Gamecocks were a defensive end like him away from winning that game.
The 6-foot-4, 249-pound Matthews hopes he can deliver three years later.
“The opportunity is there for us,” Matthews said. “All we have to do is come out and play hard, play smart, play our assignments and come fired up and ready to play.
“I know our fans will be. This is why I came to South Carolina, this kind of game, and it’s one we need to push through and win.”
Ole Miss carries a No. 4 national ranking into the game, an eight-game winning streak and the prestige of being the last team to have beaten Florida. The Rebels (2-0) have breezed through their first two games by a combined score of 97-20.
This is their first real test ... and a another chance for Spurrier’s Gamecocks to notch that breakthrough win that has been so elusive.
“We didn’t finish that game against Georgia like we were supposed to,” Matthews said. “This is a chance to redeem ourselves and show everybody what South Carolina football is all about.”
It’s also a chance to shake the big-game blues that have not only tormented Spurrier at South Carolina, but have tormented this entire program throughout its history.
South Carolina is 1-31 all-time against top-5 teams. The Gamecocks’ only win came in 1981 over No. 3 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. That was six head coaches ago.
They have never beaten a top-5 team at Williams-Brice Stadium.
And under Spurrier, the Gamecocks are just 1-7 against top-10 opponents and 5-13 against Top-25 foes.
When Spurrier says South Carolina simply hasn’t won enough of the big games to make a move in the Eastern Division race, this is exactly the kind of game he’s talking about.
“We’re looking to try and pull it together on offense, defense and special teams,” Spurrier said. “We haven’t done it yet (this season), and we hope to Thursday night.”
Matthews, who said he’s over the neck/shoulder stinger he suffered in practice, said there’s no doubt in his mind that the Gamecocks are a lot better defensively than they’ve shown the last two weeks.
Injuries have played a part, and he said busted assignments have also reared their head at inopportune times.
“You can’t do that against these guys,” Matthews said. “It’s critical that we play our assignments and not miss tackles. Guys have to be in the right spots, or these guys will kill you. We’re not where we want to be yet defensively. We’re progressing and getting there.
"This would be a good game to get there.”