Under Dabo Swinney, Clemson has won its share of big games, especially at Death Valley. In fact, the Tigers rarely lose under Swinney in home games.
Clemson is 59-7 in home games since Dabo Swinney took over the program halfway through the 2008 season. In case you are wondering, that’s a .894 win percentage.
When Swinney took over as head coach 10 years ago he said he wanted to put the “Death” back in Death Valley. He wanted opponents to dread coming to play football games in Clemson … mission accomplished.
The Tigers currently own an 8-game win streak at Clemson Memorial Stadium and have won 27 of their last 28 home games. From 2013-2016, Clemson won a program record 21 straight home games. It also won 13 straight at Death Valley from the start of the 2011 season to the end of the 2012 regular season.
In fact, since the start of the 2011 season, the Tigers have lost just three times at home in 49 games. That is a win percentage of .940.
It’s not like Clemson is beating up on the sisters of the poor in these home games. The Tigers have beaten rival South Carolina, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Georgia Tech and NC State over the years.
Clemson has won four straight over ranked opponents at home, including wins over No. 3 Louisville in 2016 and No. 6 Notre Dame in 2015. It is obvious those two games are the Tigers’ two biggest wins under Swinney at Death Valley.
It’s hard to say which one is the biggest. The Notre Dame win ushered in Clemson’s run to national prominence, again. The Tigers used the 24-22 win as a springboard for their 12-0 regular season in 2015, while earning themselves a spot in the national championship game.
A year later, the 42-36 win over Louisville was the key victory in their march to the program’s first national championship in 35 years. In both cases, Clemson needed stops in the final seconds to secure the victories.
In monsoon conditions, Clemson took a 21-3 lead on the Irish early in the third quarter when Deshaun Watson scampered 21-yards for a touchdown. However, Notre Dame fought back behind 321 passing yards from Deshone Kizer.
The Notre Dame quarterback pulled the Irish within two points, 24-22, with seven seconds left with a one-yard touchdown pass to Torii Hunter. But, Clemson earned the win when Kizer’s designed quarterback run on the two-point attempt was shut down by Carlos Watkins, Kevin Dodd and Ben Boulware.
Almost exactly a year later, the Tigers needed a similar stop to hold off the upstart Cardinals and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
Thanks to three first-half touchdown passes by Watson, Clemson built a 28-10 halftime lead on Louisville and seemed in position to blow the game wide open in the second half. However, turnovers doomed the Tigers in the second half and Louisville cashed in on all three of them, rallying for 26 unanswered points and a 36-28 lead in the fourth quarter.
Watson put Clemson back on top with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams and a 31-yard scoring play to Jordan Leggett for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. But Jackson, who totaled 457 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, drove Louisville to the Clemson 14 where it faced fourth-and-12. Jackson connected James Quick near the sideline for what appeared to be either a touchdown or a sure first down.
But Clemson defensive back Marcus Edmond forced Quick to go outside instead of inside and the Cardinals’ wide receiver was pushed out of bounds a yard short of the first down in the final seconds and the Tigers’ hung on for the six-point win.
Legendary Clemson head coach Frank Howard used to tell his players prior to running down the hill and into Death Valley that his rock, which is on a pedestal at the top of the east end of the stadium, had mystical powers and if they promised to give 110 percent effort on every play then they could rub his rock and it would help Clemson win. However, if they did not give 110 percent, then they had to keep their “filthy hands” of his rock.
Since Swinney has become the head coach, it appears, especially in the Notre Dame and Louisville wins, the Tigers have taken Howard’s words to heart.