Monday Morning Quarterback: Here is a brief history of covering what I feel is the greatest rivalry in college football
It is hard to believe, but Saturday’s Clemson-South Carolina game will be the 15th I covered. Forgive me if I don’t call it the Palmetto Bowl, that’s not what we called it when I was growing up.
I was born and raised in South Carolina and growing up you either called the game Clemson-Carolina or Carolina-Clemson, depending on your allegiance. I’m not sure when the Palmetto Bowl stuff started, but I have never really called it that and I probably never will.
However, this week is always special to me. I grew up watching and attending this game. And now, I get a 15th opportunity to write about it.
Like I have said, I have had the pleasure to cover the previous 14, all from the Clemson point of view of course. Boy, I have seen a thing or two in the series during my 14 years covering this great rivalry.
The first Clemson-Carolina game I covered was in 2004. What a first one to cover, right? That was the brawl in case you forgot, and I can understand why you would have forgotten it.
It’s not a great moment in the rivalry’s history. But, nonetheless, it is the first one I covered, and I still remember how disappointed the head coaches, Tommy Bowden and Lou Holtz, were that it happened.
It embarrassed both universities and the state of South Carolina. Both schools, and rightfully so, elected to forfeit their bowl eligibility as a result. By the way, as so many have forgotten because of the brawl, Clemson won the game 29-7.
In 2005, the Tigers won their fourth straight over South Carolina. This one is memorable, but not because Clemson won 13-9. The game was relatively boring until Charlie Whitehurst led the Tigers on a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
This game is memorable because of Whitehurst. He finished his career 4-0 against the Gamecocks and in doing so he is the only starting quarterback, on either side, to go 4-0 in the series. When Whitehurst ran for the first down that sealed the win for Clemson, he got up on his left knee, and with the football in his right hand, he pointed the ball in a first-down motion. It is still one of the more iconic shots in the long-storied history of the rivalry.
The 2007 game stands out to me because Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz made a 35-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Gamecocks, 23-21, in Columbia. Quarterback Cullen Harper connected with Aaron Kelly four times for 70 yards on the final drive to set up the winning-kick.
Of course, the 2008 game sticks out because it’s the game that allowed Dabo Swinney to permanently earn the head coaching job at Clemson. The Tigers beat South Carolina 31-14 and the game was not really that close. At the end, the crowd of 85,000 chanted Swinney’s name over-and-over again while his players gave him a victory ride off the field. It is still the only time Swinney has been carried off the field by his players.
Of course, covering the Clemson perspective during the five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks was interesting for a lot of reasons, but none more than the fact it was something I, nor anyone from the Palmetto State that followed the rivalry, had not experienced.
To that point, in my lifetime, South Carolina never won two straight games in the series. In fact, they had not won two straight games in the series since the 1968-’70 seasons. Clemson always dominated the rivalry before that stretch, so it was weird to watch the Gamecocks not only win two in a row, but five.
However, order, as we know it, was restored in 2014 when another Clemson hero, Deshaun Watson, snapped the losing skid against the Gamecocks with a 35-17 victory in front of 85,024 fans at Death Valley.
Watson will forever be a hero in the series, not because he helped snap the losing streak, but because he did it while playing with a torn ACL. Swinney confirmed in the press conference that Watson had torn his ACL a few weeks back at Georgia Tech, but he asked the coaches and the trainers could he play in the South Carolina game before having surgery.
The training staff assured Swinney that Watson could do no more damage to the knee and Swinney gave his quarterback a short leash to see how he would respond. Watson responded by completing 14-of-19 passes for 269 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more in the 35-17 rout of the Gamecocks.
The win on that November 29, 2014 afternoon was the first win in the rivalries current four-game streak. Clemson has won the last four games by an average margin of 24 points, including a 56-7 victory in 2016.
The 49-point victory is the largest by an ACC team over an SEC team in history, trumping the Tigers’ 46-point victory over the Gamecocks in 2003 (63-17). That evening, Watson threw a series’ record six touchdown passes, which also tied his own Clemson record.
Last year’s game in Columbia will remembered for Hunter Renfrow’s two touchdowns in the game, including a simple screen play he took on the first play of the third quarter and turned it into a 64-yard touchdown as he seemingly made every Gamecock defender on the field miss him.
So, on Saturday night, I will cover my 15th Clemson-Carolina game. There is a chance, if Clemson pulls off the win, I will be watching something I, nor a lot of others, have ever seen in regards to the rivalry – Clemson winning a fifth straight game.
The Tigers have not won five straight in the series since winning seven in a row from 1934-’40. Since then, Clemson has won four straight over South Carolina on four different occasions, but winning five in a row has eluded the Tigers through the years.
Maybe on Saturday night, they will create a little more history for me.