The Historical Eye of the Tiger is elated to (finally!) gaze upon the 119th season of Clemson Tigers football! Like 2014, our Tigers open the 2015 season by engaging in the age-old struggle between felines and canines. Unlike last year, however, the pups on the opposing sideline will hail from the Southern, not the Southeastern, Conference, as the Wofford College Fighting Terriers out of Sparkle-City, S.C. make the trek down I-85 to Tigertown to collect their check. If ever there was a year for Clemson to open with a SoCon team, this is it, as Dabo Swinney's 2015 squad must replace departed veterans up and down the depth chart on defense, and will rely on a bevy of freshman talent to provide depth on both sides of the ball. The only problem is that Wofford has a recent history of proving to be a tough out for the Tigers, and Swinney & Co. have frequently reminded everyone how close the 2011 Clemson team (with 8 future NFLers on the offense, and a couple more on the defense) came to losing its first ever game to an FCS team (29-0-0 since the NCAA division split in 1978). So history says that the Tigers will walk away with a "W" Saturday afternoon, while the Terriers walk all the way to the bank with a little more than a jingle in its collective pockets; but it will be anything but leisurely stroll, and could even prove to be a downright strenuous workout...at least for a half if not three quarters.
Clemson owns a commanding 11-3 record overall against Wofford dating back to the Tigers' first football season in 1896 (a 16-0 Tiger win). The last Wofford victory came during FDR's first term in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933 (that loss and the season's overall 3-6-2 record under then-head coach Jess Neely undoubtedly deepened that depression in the Upstate). The Tigers have outscored the Terriers by a combined score of 302-104 in those 14 contests, an average score of 22-7 per game. But since 1940, the two teams separated by just sixty-seven miles have squared off only three times, with the Tigers' advantage in the final ledger being 118-51 (39-17 on average). The 2015 contest, coming only four years after the last meeting in 2011, actually represents the shortest turn-around between Clemson-Wofford gridiron matches since the three years that separated the 1930 and 1933 contests.
As Sam Blackman over at clemsontigers.com has already astutely observed, playing Wofford has led to good luck for Tiger gridders in the past. The 1900 Clemson team, led by none other than John Heisman, defeated Wofford 21-0 en route to a 6-0 record, the first of Clemson's three undefeated season on record. The Tigers outscored their opposition that season by a combined score of 222-10, compiling four shutouts (of Davidson, South Carolina, and Alabama, in addition to Wofford), earning a share (with Auburn) of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletics Association (SIAA) Championship. And of course Danny Ford's 1981 Clemson squad completed a perfect 12-0 season to claim the program's eighth of fourteen ACC titles and its only national championship. But slating Wofford onto the schedule hasn't been all orange-and-purples roses over the years. In the fourteen seasons in which Clemson has played Wofford and South Carolina in the same season, the Tigers have gone just 7-7 against the Lamecocks. So the historical record reveals that scheduling the Terriers carries a bit of a high risk, high reward proposition: undefeated seasons and national titles beckon, but state "title" losses loom. But perhaps there's a final stat to assuage our collective fears of the latter, and further fuel our hopes for the former: the last time Clemson opened the season with Wofford?—September 5, 1981, exactly thirty-four years to the day from this coming Saturday's showdown.
That 1981 Clemson team featured many of the most revered legends of Tiger football lore: Homer Jordan, Jeff Davis, Terry Kinard, William Perry, Jeff Bryant, Donald Igwebuike, & Perry Tuttle. And they kicked off the most magical season in Clemson history with a 45-10 romp over the Wofford Terriers. But that final score doesn't quite tell the whole story. The Terriers jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the eventual national champions, and a rather sluggish first quarter ended with the two teams tied 3-3. The Clemson defense would allow just two touchdowns in the season's first six games, and one of them was to Wofford that afternoon. The Terrier offense racked up over 200 yards of total offense on the day, better than all but two of the Tigers' remaining opponents would muster that year. Current Wofford head coach Mike Ayers was a defensive backs coach for that 1981 Terrier squad, while current offensive coordinator Wade Lang led the Terrier ground attack that day thirty-four years ago with 74 yard on 14 carries. In many ways, the 1981 contest has served as a template for the two games since. Terry Shanesy, long-time sportswriter covering Terrier athletics for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, wrote an excellent article chronicling the 1981 battle back in 2011.
In 2001, another crop of Clemson legends donned the orange-and-white against Wofford in the second game of a lackluster season in which Tommy Bowden's third Clemson team finished unranked at 7-5. Despite returning such talents as Woody Dantzler, Travis Zachary, and Chad Carson from a 2000 team that had gone 9-3, along with heralded underclassmen Kevin Youngblood, Derrick Hamilton, Roscoe Crosby, and Ben Hall, the 2001 Tigers disappointed on the field. And though they eventually dispatched of the Wofford Terriers 38-14, the nature of the game was not reflected on the final scoreboard. Wofford actually led 14-7 after the first quarter, and the Tigers clung to just a 24-14 lead at the half. The disparity of talent in the depth charts would prevail somewhat in the second half, but the outcome was anything but assured as late as the third quarter.
In the most recent matchup in 2011, a young but talented Tiger team led by third-year head coach Dabo Swinney faced off against Wofford in just the second game of the Chad Morris Era, and the result was still very much in doubt heading into the final quarter. The eventual ACC Champion Tigers would go on to a 10-4 record, but in week two hardly anyone would have predicted that outcome. In a back-and-forth affair, Clemson and Wofford traded scoring drives en route to a too-close-for-comfort 35-27 final margin in the Tigers' favor. The Terriers led 14-13 after one, tied it at 21 going into half, and trailed just 28-27 after three, before a late 17-yard touchdown pass from Boyd to Hopkins sealed the game. Wofford consistently ran the ball against Kevin Steele's much-maligned 2011 unit (which would give up 70 points and nearly 600 yards to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl to cap the season), to the tune of 272 yards rushing and 399 total. The 27 points are the most any FCS team has ever scored against Clemson. The Tigers needed every bit of Andre Ellington's 165 yards on the ground, and every one of Tajh Boyd's four touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing) to rack up the 476 yards of total offense it took to narrowly defeat of the Terriers. Other stars on the field that day for the Tigers included Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Jaron Brown, Dwayne Allen, Martavis Bryant, Andre Branch, and Malliciah Goodman.
So history indicates that Saturday won't be easy for the Tigers. Wofford returns 19 starters from last year's underachieving 6-5 team. In the past three years alone they have taken Georgia Tech down to the wire (38-19 final in 2014, but 24-19 well into the fourth frame) and scared the feathers off our fowl-weather friends down South (24-7 final in 2012, but tied 7-7 until three late fourth-quarter scores by the chickens). But along with the high-risk, high-reward track record when the Tigers and Terriers tussle, here's one final parting stat to salve your orange soul: Clemson's all-time record against canine foes comes to 124-79-8 versus the following competition:
The Citadel (31-5-1); Cumberland (0-0-1); LA Tech (3-0-0); Miss St.(1-1-1); NC State (54-28-1); Samford (3-0-0); SC State (3-0-0); UGA (18-42-4).
So the Terriers are indeed double-dogs (underdogs by double digits) in their quest to tame our Tigers amid the din of the Tigers roar as it echoes, o'er the mountain height.
Happy Labor Day Weekend & GO TIGERS!