Tigers’ seniors drew a line in the sand and have not lost to South Carolina since
Dorian O’Daniel remembers what it was like to first experience the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. And he was not even a player at Clemson yet.
It was 2012, and the Olney, Md., native was on a recruiting trip to Clemson. At the time, Clemson was ranked 12th in the country and the Gamecocks were ranked 13th.
Clemson was in the midst of a three-game losing streak to the Gamecocks and with the game being in Death Valley, and the Tigers having one of the best year’s in school history, many felt Clemson was going to end the streak.
It did not come to fruition.
Instead South Carolina backup quarterback Dylan Thompson played for an injured Connor Shaw that night, and threw three touchdown passes, while Jadeveon Clowney sacked Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd four times to down the Tigers’ 27-17.
What happened left the Tigers in shock and in disbelief.
“I could just tell in the locker room and just around the team, that it was not a good feeling,” O’Daniel said.
The next year, during O’Daniel’s redshirt season, the Gamecocks won for a fifth straight time, this time in Columbia.
“It did not take me long to tell what kind of game it was,” the linebacker said. “This game is about bragging rights and that is what a rivalry game is all about. It’s a big brother vs. little brother kind of thing.”
The “Big Brother” as former Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware described the Tigers to South Carolina last year, has won the last three meetings and restored order in a rivalry which has been dominated by Clemson for the better part of the 114-year history of the game.
Clemson owns a 68-42-4 lead in the all-time series and has won at least four straight in the series seven different times. They also own a seven-game winning streak over the Gamecocks (1934-’40), the longest in the history of the rivalry.
However, it has been since Charlie Whitehurst and the 2005 Clemson seniors since a senior class has won four straight over the Gamecocks.
“Growing up, this game is always something I like look forward to,” said tight end D.J. Greenlee, who grew up around the Clemson program as his father, Larry, is the football program’s assistant strength and conditioning coach. “To have an opportunity to go 4-0 against them is just amazing because a lot of my former teammates did not have that chance. It’s a big deal.”
It’s a big deal for offensive guard Maverick Morris, who was on that redshirt bus with O’Daniel in 2013, when the Tigers were greeted with a not so friendly welcome from the South Carolina fans. The Broxton, Ga., native did not want to say what the Gamecock fans did to them that night, but let’s just say it’s not something he can say publicly.
It was Morris’ first taste of the rivalry, and for obvious reasons, it got him to understand from a personal standpoint why beating South Carolina is so big to Clemson and its fans.
“It was one of the more intense games that I had been at,” Morris said. “It was something else.”
“Going undefeated against your rivals is the ultimate bragging rights for the rest of your life. You can claim your team never got beat by them,” he continued. “Obviously, it is a huge deal to try and keep our streak going.”
Cornerback Ryan Carter, who is from Grayson, Ga., said he had to educate himself on what the South Carolina rivalry meant to Clemson. Growing up in Georgia he heard of the game and knew it was a state of South Carolina thing, but he just did not realize how big it was and how much it meant to so many people until he experienced that 2013 loss in Columbia during his redshirt season.
“I definitely was made aware of how big this game is,” he said. “That game definitely means a lot to me now because I have been here five years so it means so much more to me now than it did when I first got here.”
Carter remembers what it was like in the Clemson football building after South Carolina made it five straight over the Tigers in 2013. He said they kept hearing how the Gamecocks won five in a row and how they were challenged by the coaches to put an end to it.
They were made aware of how South Carolina fans made fun of and disrespected the Clemson players and would use their own children to mock head coach Dabo Swinney at public functions.
“Coach Swinney always harped on who is going to be the guys that step up and beat them,” Carter said. “Who are going to be the guys to break that streak and change the outcome of this game? We kept hearing about it and we kept hearing about it and at some point you have to draw the line.
“That is what Coach Swinney preached to us. When are we going to draw the line? When is enough, enough? When are you going to stop losing to that program? So from that point on that has been our mindset against them.”
Since that point in 2014, Clemson has won the last three meetings by an average margin of 24 points including last year’s 56-7 victory in Death Valley. Now the Clemson seniors have a chance to join a select group in the rivalry’s history and end their careers with a perfect 4-0 record against the Gamecocks.
“It would be very big for us,” Carter said. “To go our whole careers and not have a loss to South Carolina, especially how big that rivalry is and how it goes so deep within Clemson. That whole matchup is really big for us, especially us seniors. We know we have put a lot of hard work in these last few years and have come up on the winning side against South Carolina. So doing it again for a fourth straight time will mean a lot to us.”