Perhaps no one on the Clemson roster understands the Clemson-Carolina Rivalry as much as Jay Guillermo.
Clemson’s starting center grew up a Tiger fan and for most of his young life he thought it was just a rite of passage as a Clemson fan that the Tigers beat the Gamecocks. From 1976-2008, Clemson won 24 of the 33 matchups, and had not lost to South Carolina in back-to-back years since a three-year stretch from 1968-’70.
In other words, Clemson owned South Carolina. That’s just the way it was.
However, in 2009 that all changed. That’s the year the Gamecocks began their longest winning streak ever in the series, winning five in row. It’s a period in time in the rivalry the Tigers want to forget.
Guillermo was a redshirt freshman in 2012 when the Gamecocks came to Clemson and won for a fourth straight time. It marked the first time since 1954 that Clemson’s senior class did not own a win against their most bitter and hated rival.
“I remember standing out there in 2012 … It was me and Patrick DeStefano and it was late in the fourth quarter, and I remember Dalton (Freeman) standing there. He had gotten hurt or something in that game. He was standing on the sideline and he said, ‘If ya’ll are going to do this, I’m going to come back and beat you guys. You cannot lose to South Carolina.’ It makes me feel bad for him,” Guillermo said.
Two years later, again on that same sideline, Guillermo experienced a different moment as the Tigers finally broke the five-game losing streak in the series and beat the Gamecocks, 35-17.
“When we broke that streak and everything in 2014, it was just pure joy,” the senior said. “We had beaten them, and finally we got past that mark and the history of where they beat us five years in a row and everything. It was a great feeling in the locker room afterwards and finally getting that trophy back.”
Last year, in Clemson’s mind, order was restored in the rivalry as the Tigers won for a second straight year. Tonight, when the Gamecocks come to Death Valley for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, No. 4 Clemson has an opportunity to send the seniors out with a third win over their most hated rival, something that has not been done at Clemson since 2008.
“That means a lot. Anytime you can win against South Carolina, it is a big deal,” Guillermo said. “Winning the majority against your rival is something that you want to do.”
Linebacker Kendall Joseph said the goal of beating the Gamecocks is part of the plan, the moment a player steps foot on to the soil at Clemson, he knows that is what he is supposed to do.
“South Carolina … that does not work. We don’t lose to them,” he said. “That is something we are really intrigued by and we want to keep it going.
“It would be huge (to win for a third straight year) because we are trying to get six in a row, seven in a row, so we can equal it out,” the sophomore from Belton, South Carolina continued. “Year by year this is a big game and we respect them, but we are ready for the challenge and we are ready to keep the streak going.”
Though Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney stresses how important every game is and each week is the biggest game of the season, he has reminded his team all week about what it was like to lose five straight times to South Carolina and why winning the state championship is so important.
“He reminds us of how terrible that was,” Guillermo said. “I remember a couple of years ago in 2014, when he would pull up pictures of people taking pictures with him holding up the five, how that was a miserable time and how we could never get away from it and we always heard about it, no matter what success we had. We were always hearing about South Carolina.
“I would not say there is more of an edge because he is always pretty intense and ready to go because every game is the biggest game, but he reminds us every day about it and what we are playing for.”
The Tigers are playing for the right to beat South Carolina because beating the Gamecocks is what they are supposed to do, and for the most part in the 114-year history of the rivalry, it’s what Clemson has always done.