There are four or five plays that determine the outcome of a football game. A big pass, a blocked punt, or a fumble all can change the dynamic of a game. Clemson travels to play rival South Carolina on Saturday night in a game that will exudes the meaning of hatred. With the Gamecocks winning the last four in the series, Clemson and its fans are hungry for a win. Dabo Swinney is 1-4 against South Carolina, and quarterback Tajh Boyd is 0-3 (0-2 as starter). Together these men have accomplished a lot at Clemson, but a victory over South Carolina has eluded their grasps.
The past few meetings, Clemson has not been able to manufacture big plays. Big plays are what wins a game like this, which is why the Tigers have not won recently.
In 1948, Phil Prince plowed through the line and blocked a South Carolina punt that was picked up by teammate Oscar Thompson and returned for the game-winning touchdown. That win in Carolina Stadium helped keep a perfect season intact under Frank Howard.
In 1977 the world became witness to the greatest play in the rivalry’s history. With 49 seconds left, Steve Fuller found a leaping Jerry Butler for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 31-27 victory. “The Catch” is a play that forever defines Butler’s and Fuller’s legacy and vaulted them into the Clemson Ring of Honor. Clemson went on to play in the Gator Bowl because of that improbable play.
This rivalry also has fashion statements, as we saw in 1980. Danny Ford was trying to inspire the troops by busting out the orange pants for the first time. It worked as his team won the game 27-6 behind Willie Underwood‘s two interceptions. Wearing the same orange pants in 2000, Rod Gardner hauled in the “The Catch 2″ from Woody Dantzler to set up the game-winning field goal for Clemson. In 2007, Mark Buchholz kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to lift Clemson to a victory in Columbia.
Clemson must create big, momentum shifting plays in this game in order to leave Columbia with a victory. Tajh Boyd has never beaten the Gamecocks as they have shut him down every meeting. He has never passed for more than 200 yards against South Carolina and has had trouble with turnovers and sacks. Last season Boyd was great in the first half only to falter in the second half.
Clemson’s offense is built on the idea of big plays after they make the safeties creep up. Their philosophy has not worked against their rival, but it will need to work Saturday for them to have any success. This game could easily come down to the last few minutes allowing someone to become a hero or a goat. Heroic plays by a Clemson player might be needed for the Tigers to win on enemy soil, but South Carolina will have a distinct home-field advantage.
Tajh Boyd needs to be heroic like he was in the Chik-Fil-A bowl last season. He must put the team on his back and carry them to a win. Saturday night is his chance to carve his name next to Clemson legends and leave his mark on this great rivalry. Jadeveon Clowney and Co. will be waiting for him, but Boyd will have to be the hero for his team to win.
Travis Patterson, ACC Writer Rantsports.com. Football Writers Association of America. Follow on Twitter @tpat20. https://twitter.com/tpat20