CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – In Tajh Boyd’s Clemson career, the No. 6 Tigers have won an Atlantic Coast Conference title, posted three 10-win seasons and ranked in the Top 10 for a school-record 13 straight weeks.
But there is still a big hole in Boyd’s resume – he hasn’t beaten bitter in-state rival South Carolina in three tries. The senior gets one last chance Saturday night.
“It’s something that no one has done around here. Not our senior class, not many of the coaches that have been here. It’s the one we are waiting for,” Boyd said.
This is a place few Tigers fans remember. No. 10 South Carolina has had a four-game winning streak in the rivalry only once before, in the 1950s. The Gamecocks have never won five in a row. So while Saturday’s matchup will be the first with both schools in the Top 10 and could also have BCS bowl implications, the game is still at its core a simple desire to beat the most-hated team on the schedule.
The losses to South Carolina eat at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney too. He has beaten the Gamecocks only once, in 2008, when the win helped him get the coaching job permanently. He joked after the Tigers’ 52-6 victory over The Citadel on Saturday that he hears about his 1-4 record in the rivalry game every day.
“My wife usually reminds me every morning when I wake up. And by the time I get to breakfast, (my oldest son) Will hits me with it. That’s the nature of a rivalry game. It’s great when you win. It stinks when you lose,” Swinney said.
Long-suffering South Carolina fans don’t mind rubbing it in, either. After the Gamecocks’ 27-17 win last season, they started a social media trend called “four-bombing” where South Carolina fans have their pictures taken holding up four fingers in front of unsuspecting Clemson fans. The gesture perhaps reached its peak in May when a photo of two elementary school students holding up four fingers while posing with Swinney flew across Twitter.
“You live it year-round. I’ve got to do a better job than I have done in the past. We’ve got to play better. Nobody wants it more than me, I promise you,” Swinney said.
That statement got back to South Carolina cornerback Victor Hampton, who fired the first shot of rivalry week.
“I always feel like it’s a problem if your coach wants to win the game more than your players,” Hampton said.
While Clemson can put all its focus on beating its rival, the Gamecocks’ attention may be split. South Carolina can still make it to the Southeastern Conference championship if 19th-ranked Texas A&M beats No. 5 Missouri in a game that kicks off 45 minutes after Clemson-South Carolina starts.
Even with the winning streak, South Carolina still trails the rivalry 65-41-4, a stat that Hampton brought up after Saturday’s 70-10 victory over Coastal Carolina.
“We’ve won four in a row. But the record looks really bad. We’ve got a lot of motivation and a lot of stuff to do to catch up to those guys,” Hampton said.
But most of the psychological pressure falls squarely on Clemson and on a set of seniors who have won 37 games overall. They don’t want to be the first class in the 117 years of the rivalry to lose five in a row.
“I don’t think they’ve gotten any reason to be overconfident,” Swinney said. “They’ve gotten their butts whipped four years in a row.”