Citadel coach Kevin Higgins took to Twitter this week to report the mental status of his team heading into Saturday’s game at No. 7 Clemson.
“Our trainer for over 40 years just told me, ‘We have some young ones getting nervous.’ #deathvalley,” Higgins tweeted, referring to director of sports medicine Andy Clawson.
The 5-6 Bulldogs have good reason to be nervous, facing a 9-1 Clemson team that will have some 80,000 purple-clad fans in the stands at Memorial Stadium for a Military Appreciation Day “Purple Out” game.
The Citadel has lost 15 straight games to Clemson, which according to USA Today’s Sagarin Ratings is a 43-point favorite over the Bulldogs.
But despite the skittishness of his younger players, Higgins said his seniors relish the chance to measure themselves against future NFL players such as Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Vic Beasley.
“It’s an opportunity to test yourself against the best in the country,” said Higgins, whose seniors have played against North Carolina State, South Carolina and Arizona the last three years. “You wake up on Sunday morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘You know what, I was good enough to play on that level. Or you say, ‘I wasn’t good enough.’”
Former Citadel receiver Andre Roberts took advantage of this same opportunity in 2008, catching nine passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in a 45-17 loss at Clemson. That helped him become a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals.
With no FCS playoffs in the offing for the Bulldogs, Higgins said this trip to Death Valley is like a bowl game for his team.
“I kind of like having this game at the end of the year,” he said. “I love seeing our guys in the locker room before these games, the excitement and emotion. We have guys who look forward to playing against the guys they seen on ESPN every week. When you come to The Citadel, we can guarantee you will have a chance to play in four big games like this during your career.”
The Bulldogs have not defeated an ACC or SEC team since a 10-3 win at Arkansas in 1992. The last three years, The Citadel has lost by 52-6 at Arizona, 41-20 at USC and 52-14 at N.C. State.
A result like the 2011 game against the Gamecocks would be one Citadel fans could live with. The Bulldogs trailed 20-13 at the half, rushed for 241 yards and held the ball for 33:16 in that game. That game also was at the end of the season, while the N.C. State and Arizona games came early in the schedule.
“A game like VMI, I get tight wondering how we’ll handle game the and making sure there is no letdown,” Higgins said. “A game like this, you are a lot freer and I know our guys will play hard and with emotion. But we have to make some big plays. We can’t just do our standard operation.”
However the game turns out, it will be a thrill for Citadel players.
“Everyone dreams as a young kid of playing on front of 80,000 people,” said senior cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre. “When you go into a game like this you are nervous at first. But once you make that first tackle, you remember it’s just football, the game you grew playing.”
The Citadel confirmed that junior linebacker Carl Robinson tore an ACL in his knee last week against VMI. It’s not the same ACL that Robinson tore last season.