(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in Clemson Athletics History’ countdown. Starting Tuesday, April 14 we will be revealing portions of the list daily on WSPA Channel 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Tigers history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with former Clemson Sports Information Director and longtime color analyst Tim Bourret, who’s still heard on their radio network and works with the Clemson sports department covering Tigers Golf.
#10: 2008 football win over South Carolina
There is perhaps no more important regular-season game in Clemson Football history than the 2008 win over rival South Carolina. The victory paved the way for then interim head coach Dabo Swinney to take over the reins of the program. With questions about Swinney’s effectiveness, a convincing win over the Gamecocks proved to be an impactful moment that put the team on a course of consistent success.
The 2008 Clemson Tigers came into the season with fairly high expectations following a nine-win campaign that resulted in a bowl game appearance (Chick-Fil-A Bowl). They returned record-breaking quarterback Cullen Harper, and featured their “thunder and lightning” duo of running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller, as well as fifth-year senior receiver Aaron Kelly. Clemson was the odds-on favorite to win the ACC under tenth-year head coach Tommy Bowden.
But after six games the Tigers were 3-3, and along with it came Bowden’s departure. Next man up was a wide receivers coach by the name of Dabo Swinney. Swinney took over the .500 ball club as the team prepared to play host to Georgia Tech.
The Tigers lost a close one in Swinney’s first appearance as interim head coach, falling to the Yellow Jackets 21-17 at Death Valley. The following week they traveled to Boston College and the team gave Swinney his first win with a 27-21 victory.
Clemson would go 2-1 over the next three games putting Swinney at 3-2 through five games. But all eyes were on the young coach the following week as Clemson played host to South Carolina.
“Even when you look at it today it’s very rare that a coach is elevated from a non-coordinator status to a head coach…so those were question marks that hung over him,” said Tim Bourret, former Clemson sports information director.
A win over the Gamecocks was necessary to quell any fears the program, and the fans, had regarding their interim coach.
“What we know now you can say it’s one of the more important, if not the most important, game in Clemson football history,” said Bourret.
The Game (November 29, 2008)
In front of over 82,000 fans the Clemson Tigers marched into Memorial Stadium determined to topple the Gamecocks, led by fourth-year head coach Steve Spurrier.
“The fans were all fired up. It was an electric crowd,” said Bourret.
Clemson was the first on the scoreboard after a 39-yard run by Spiller set up Davis for a goal-line touchdown plunge late in the first quarter. Then just before the second quarter Mark Bucholz nailed a 22-yard field goal to make it 10-0 Tigers after one.
Clemson piled it on in the second quarter beginning with the biggest play of the game, a 50-yard touchdown pass from Harper to Jacoby Ford.
“Jacoby kind of hid over by the sidelines on the line of scrimmage. I think Dabo called it the ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo play’ or something like that…that was a huge play,” Bourret recalled.
After another Davis touchdown midway through the second quarter Clemson had a significant 24-0 advantage and led 24-7 at halftime.
The Gamecocks cut the lead to just ten at the start of the third quarter, but got no closer. Davis added a third touchdown run late in the third quarter for the final score of the game.
Clemson defeated South Carolina 31-14. Emotions were felt throughout Death Valley.
“Some of the players carried Dabo off the field and there was just a euphoric feeling throughout the entire stadium that day,” said Bourret “And it just kind of carried on to the following Monday, December 1 when we had a press conference to name Dabo the head coach…that was such a convincing victory.”
Clemson Athletic Director Tom Phillis removed the interim tag roughly 48 hours after the win, a decision that would forever impact the trajectory of Clemson football. Bourret said it’s a commitment that may have never been made if it weren’t for that big win November 29, 2008.
“Looking back, and kind of being on the inside with the program at that point, he needed to win that game to get the job. I firmly believe that that had to happen.”
Clemson Top Ten List: