COLUMBIA — Tensions ran high between the Clemson football team and South Carolina student section in the north end zone of Williams-Brice Stadium, including debris being thrown at halftime and a scary postgame incident, but there doesn’t appear to be significant long-term concerns following USC’s 31-17 victory Saturday night.
The visiting tunnel at South Carolina’s home stadium exits through the northwest corner of the field, just in front of the Gamecocks’ student fans. It is fairly narrow, requiring a few extra moments for players, coaches and support staff to bottleneck into the locker room.
Just after Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro booted a 38-yard field goal to cut South Carolina’s halftime lead to 17-10, there were words exchanged between the visiting team and host fans, with bottles and other objects tossed in the direction of the Tigers.
“Yeah, that’s college football. It’s disappointing that people are throwing bottles, because people could get hurt,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s not representative of their team or their coaches. That’s disappointing, because it’s dangerous. Guys are out there competing, trying to play at the highest level. You hate to see things like that, but that’s just part of it.”
Then at the conclusion of the game, the final few players were delayed on their way into the Tigers’ locker room when a Clemson staffer and USC student were involved in a physical altercation, according to event staff and multiple students who witnessed the actions.
Thousands of fans lingered in the bleachers well after the final whistle, while Missouri-Texas A&M was being broadcast on the Jumbotron, a game affecting South Carolina’s fate in the race for an SEC championship game bid. About 10 minutes after the Tigers left the field, a few students who saw the fracas said stadium security personnel quickly whisked the Clemson staffer away from the stands.
South Carolina spokesman Steve Fink wrote in a Sunday afternoon email to the Post and Courier: “Law enforcement has no reports or charges involving anyone from the Clemson team.”
Swinney and Clemson spokesman Tim Bourret indicated nobody involved with the Tigers was injured.
South Carolina has beaten Clemson five straight years, its longest winning streak in the series. The rivalry returns to Death Valley on Nov. 29, 2014.
Two painful losses
In 2012, Clemson went 10-2 in the regular season, with losses to ACC champion Florida State and South Carolina.
In 2013, Clemson went 10-2 in the regular season, with losses to ACC Atlantic champion Florida State and South Carolina.
Swinney is not about to trade half his season to get one or both of those back. But it stings perhaps even worse against the top-ranked Seminoles and No. 8 Gamecocks.
“Obviously we want to win them all. I don’t wish that we lose any,” Swinney said. “I wish the two losses were different because those are two big rival games for us. But three 10-win seasons in a row; nobody wants to celebrate that or hear that right now, but I think you do have to have some perspective and step back and know how hard it is to win games consistently.”
The No. 13 Tigers turned the ball over 10 times in their two losses this season, and 12 times in their 10 victories.
“Tonight was a bad night. Our other loss was the same way,” Swinney said. “I’m disappointed in our performance in these two big opportunities that we had. Florida State and South Carolina are two of our rivals, two games that have huge implications for us.
“But one of those teams (FSU) is about to play for the national championship, and South Carolina’s been as consistent as anybody in the country as well.”
Clemson junior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has been regarded as the defense’s emotional leader, and the normally reserved Jarrett was indignant at his team’s performance Saturday.
“That’s what’s disappointing, when you put all the work in, and on game day you can’t get it all together,” Jarrett said. “We’re going to take that one on the chin. Ain’t no excuses.”
Jarrett was asked if it was unacceptable to keep coming up short against the Gamecocks.
“Absolutely, man. Absolutely. It is,” Jarrett said. “We felt like we matched up with them really well. We knew coming into the game it would come down to execution. We personally felt like we were the better team with the matchups. You always feel that, but you’ve got to come out and perform. We didn’t have our best performance tonight.”