Though second-ranked Clemson has won the last four meetings against rival South Carolina, don’t think it has forgotten all that went on during its five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks between 2009-’13.
The Tigers were embarrassed several times in the losing streak. They turned the ball over 15 times to Carolina’s three, and Gamecock fans made them very aware of the losing streak by five-bombing pictures with Dabo Swinney every time they got the chance.
“I am feeling lugubrious today,” Swinney joked earlier this week. “I’m still feeling lugubrious. Thanks for asking.”
In case you are wondering, lugubrious means looking or sounding sad or dismal. In all honesty, there is nothing lugubrious about the Clemson football program right now. The Tigers are ranked No. 2 in the current College Football Playoff standings and have an opportunity tonight to cement a five-game win streak of their own against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina (6-4) has definitely been lugubrious the last four seasons. Clemson has embarrassed Carolina during its current win streak in the series, winning by an average margin of 24 points in the four games.
In the last two years, the Tigers (11-0) have outscored USC 55-0 in the first half alone.
If you think the recent success has made Clemson complacent in the rivalry, think again. There are still players on the team that remember what it was like when the Tigers were trying to end that five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks.
Linebacker Kendall Joseph remembers during his redshirt season in 2014 how much beating the Gamecocks meant to former players like Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Robert Smith and Stephone Anthony.
“You could just tell that guys were sick of it,” Joseph said. “They were absolutely sick of it. I just remember, and I was a young guy, but the older guys like Stephone, it was just so personable. It is still personable, but you could just tell they did not want to have that on their record of never beating South Carolina.”
So, what turned things around? What got the rivalry back in Clemson’s favor?
“It’s just leadership. It is believing in the plan that Coach Swinney set before us and believing in the plan Coach (Bren Venables) sets before us,” Joseph said. “Just doing things the right way, recruiting the right guys and just sticking to the plan and believing.
“Eventually, you will get things right. During that stretch South Carolina had some really good teams. I don’t know why, I remember those games, Clemson would be turning the ball over and would not be playing as clean. I think a lot of that was the emotions getting in the way. Now, and it is still a pride thing, but we kind of calm our emotions and remind ourselves we have to play clean football.”
Joseph said that is what has been able to separate them from the Gamecocks. Yes, they still want to beat their rivals as bad as Carolina does, but they keep their emotions in check.
“You can’t go at this game any differently,” the senior said. “You can’t practice any different or decide you are going to work harder this week. It is the same. You have to take care of your business and prepare the same way.
“When you get on the field. There is a lot of emotions, but emotions do not win ball games either. You kind of store it in the back of your mind. You know the hate is deep in your heart, but it is not going to win ball games. It is not like emotions are going to make you play different or anything like that.”
Playing with emotions can only make the Tigers feel lugubrious, and they don’t want to feel that way again in this rivalry for a long time to come.
“That was a tough stretch for sure,” Swinney said. “Listen, at some point they will beat us again. This is life. This is football. Hopefully, not in my lifetime, that would be great. Hopefully, not this year. And hopefully, not the next many years. But chances are, eventually they are going to win a game.
“I think for me, I just want to make sure that we can keep our program consistent and continue to have a good program that year in and year out, has a chance to compete consistently in not only this championship, but also our league and beyond.”