Clemson and South Carolina have a deep history when it comes to the gridiron, meeting this weekend for the 117th time in its storied series. The Tigers and Gamecocks have played yearly since 1909, with Clemson holding a 70-42-4 series lead. The Tigers have dominated this rivalry series, owning the largest margin of victory and longest win streak in the matchup.
With a rivalry this deep, there have been many moments and big games that have helped shape the rivalry into what it is today. Whether it was the massive brawl in 2004 that ended in multiple punishments for both sides or Hunter Renfrow shredding through the South Carolina defense (and flying water bottles from the stands) to score his epic touchdown in 2017, there is no loss of bad blood in this matchup.
We at The Tiger enjoy this series. Many of our close friends attend UofSC and some of us have had family attend there as well. Some of us grew up watching Charlie Whitehurst throw touchdown after touchdown against the Gamecocks, while some of us only know what it feels like to have never lost to those chickens from Columbia. Either way, this game means a lot to us, and in an effort to collect that significance, we have put together what we believe to be the top five moments in Clemson’s side of this historic rivalry. We hope you enjoy our list.
5. Deshaun Watson’s ACL game in 2014
You may have only heard the legend of Deshaun Watson’s ACL game, but seeing it in person was like watching poetry be written before my eyes. Let me set the scene: Clemson had lost five straight to South Carolina coming into this game. The Tigers had never endured a streak as long as that before in the series, and things had been rough for years. The Tigers were rebuilding after losing superstars Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, and Martavis Bryant from a year before, but in came freshman phenom Deshaun Watson, the No. 1 overall quarterback in his class. Clemson had already lost to rivals Georgia, Florida State and Georgia Tech, so the Tigers needed to snap the streak against the Gamecocks to save the season. South Carolina took an early lead, and it seemed the Gamecocks might have been headed for another victory, but the legend of Deshaun Watson would soon be born. Watson threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Artavis Scott to tie the game, and the Tigers soon built a 21-10 halftime lead. Leading 28-17 in the fourth quarter, Watson led Clemson on a 9-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to seal the game and break the Tigers’ losing streak to the Gamecocks. Watson finished with 269 yards and two touchdowns, and the star had officially arrived. After the game, it was revealed that Watson had played on a torn ACL he suffered the week before. Watson went on to lead Clemson to its first national title in 35 years and has gone down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to wear the tiger paw. Clemson has not lost to South Carolina since, partly thanks to Watson’s heroics.
4. Orange pants help Clemson upset the Gamecocks in 1980
One year before the Tigers won their first national championship, Clemson found itself as a big underdog against the Gamecocks in the regular season finale in 1980. The Tigers had won three of the last four in the series, but was not expected to beat South Carolina that year. Clemson was 5-5 and had lost four of their last five games, and there were rumors that then head coach Danny Ford could be fired if the Tigers did not beat the Gamecocks. Looking to save the season and his job, Coach Ford called an audible and allowed his team to wear orange pants -- the first of any kind in Clemson history. The Clemson crowd was thrilled to see the Tigers in all-orange for the first time, and the momentum stuck with Clemson all game. The two teams traded field goals until a Tiger interception eventually led to the first Clemson touchdown, and the Tigers never looked back. Willie Underwood’s two interceptions highlighted the Tigers’ 27-6 victory over the 19th-ranked Gamecocks. Clemson finished the season 6-5, but most importantly, the win propelled the Tigers to an undefeated national championship season the following year along with starting the famous tradition of the orange britches.
3. Dabo’s victory over South Carolina in 2008
2008 was a program-shifting season for Clemson football. The Tigers were a preseason top-10 team and were projected to win the ACC title and potentially compete for their second national title. Tommy Bowden had the Tigers relevant again following successful 2006 and 2007 campaigns (and by successful I mean winning nine games was a big deal for Clemson back then). In the season opener, the Tigers got blasted by Nick Saban’s Alabama team, which kickstarted the Crimson Tide’s dynasty for the next decade (sorry college football). Clemson eventually found itself 3-3 after losing to Wake Forest on a Thursday night. Soon after, Bowden announced his resignation as head coach, and the future of the program looked uncertain. Then-athletic director Terry Don Phillips decided to promote wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney to interim head coach, which eventually led to the best decade in Clemson football history. Swinney was 3-2 as the interim coach when the Tigers hosted the Gamecocks, and behind three touchdowns from James Davis and a dominating defensive effort, Clemson defeated South Carolina 31-14, its sixth win in seven tries against the Gamecocks. Coach Swinney was carried off the field by his players, and despite losing to Nebraska later on in the Gator Bowl, Swinney’s win over South Carolina was enough to help him earn the full-time head coaching job. Despite losing the next five contests against the Gamecocks, the ‘08 victory springboarded Clemson into its best decade in school history under Swinney. If only Tiger fans on that cold, rainy day in late November knew what they were about to experience as they watched a young Swinney take the reigns of the program right before their eyes.
2. Clemson stomps the Gamecocks 63-17 in Columbia in 2003
Name a more talked about Clemson-UofSC game for Tiger faithful. The iconic beatdown of the Gamecocks in 2003 is one of the most, if not the most, talked about outcomes in the rivalry. Sitting at 7-4 just a couple of weeks after upsetting No. 3 Florida State, the Tigers headed to Columbia to face Lou Holtz’s South Carolina team that needed a win to become bowl eligible. Tommy Bowden had faced scrutiny all season, but following the blowout victory over the Seminoles and the late season resurgence, Bowden looked to secure his job with a win over the Gamecocks. Clemson wasted no time securing his job, scoring 21 first quarter points to take a 21-0 lead. From there, the Tigers scored 14 points in the second quarter and took a 35-10 lead into halftime. Clemson would score 28 more points in the second half to send the Gamecock faithful home early. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst tied the school record with four touchdown passes, earning his second career victory over UofSC. The 63 points were the most scored by a team in the series and the most Clemson had scored since its 1981 championship run. Clemson would go on to upset Tennessee in the Peach Bowl and record its second nine-win season in four years. The big victory over the Gamecocks has become one of the staple memories for Clemson fans. The Tigers’ 56-7 victory in 2016 is the only other matchup that has been as one-sided as the 2003 game in recent memory.
1. The Catch I and II
Two of the most famous catches in Clemson history have come against the Gamecocks. In 1977, Clemson found itself trailing the Gamecocks 27-24 late in the fourth quarter. Driving down the field in the final minute, Tiger quarterback Steve Fuller threw a pass towards wide receiver Jerry Butler, who made an acrobatic diving catch as he was falling backwards into the endzone to give Clemson the late lead. The Tigers went on to win 31-27, and Butler’s catch would go into the record books for Clemson fans. 23 years later in 2000, the Tigers found themselves once again trailing South Carolina late in the fourth quarter. With under a minute to go, Clemson was driving at midfield. Facing a 3rd-and-12 from their own 41-yard line, Tiger quarterback Woody Dantzler took the snap and rolled left. Dantzler threw back to his right side and connected with receiver Rod Gardner, who hauled in the 50-yard reception at the Carolina 8-yard line. Many Gamecock fans believe Gardner pushed off the defender, but no flag was thrown, and the Tigers were able to set up for a game-winning field goal by Aaron Hunt to beat UofSC, 16-14. These two iconic catches will go down in Clemson-UofSC history forever.
These are just a handful of memories from this rivalry series that stick out the most. There are others that could make the list, like Mike Williams carrying Gamecock defenders into the endzone in 2016, Mark Bucholz’s game-winning field goal in 2007, Clemson beating UofSC 45-0 in Danny Ford’s last rivalry game in 1989 or the final Big Thursday matchup in 1959, a 27-0 Clemson win.
The memories of this rivalry always stick out the most, and the Tigers will go for another milestone victory on Saturday, looking for their sixth straight win over the Gamecocks. No team on either side has won that many since the Tigers won seven straight from 1934-1940. Clemson will also be looking for its 71st overall victory over the Gamecocks, its most versus any opponent in school history.