CLEMSON — Before Clemson could attend to some unfinished business, there was the matter of a short checklist.
In the calm before the South Carolina storm, Tajh Boyd got his curtain call, Daniel Rodriguez got his touchdown, and the Tigers locked up their third straight 10-win season by dismissing The Citadel, 52-6, Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Four straight dominant wins have washed away the sting from Florida State 51, Clemson 14. But four straight games dubbed “the state championship” have gone South Carolina’s way, by an average of 17 points.
“The list is long for what these guys have accomplished. It’s amazing. But there’s a very small list of things they haven’t done, and that’s obviously a big one,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s the most important game on our schedule every year. You’ve got to give South Carolina all the credit; they’ve been the better football team. They’ve outcoached us, outplayed us. But it’s all about these four quarters.”
No. 7 Clemson (10-1) and No. 11 South Carolina (9-2) will have their Saturday night showdown at 7 p.m., televised by ESPN2. The Tigers are now 31-7 in the last three years, but 0-2 against the Gamecocks.
“It’s all about South Carolina now. I’m ready for those boys. They’re going to be ready,” senior tailback Roderick McDowell said. “Nice rivalry we’ve got going on, but hey, time to take care of business now.”
First, Clemson took care of business in its final tuneup for Carolina.
All three gameday celebrations were represented on the field in Death Valley’s season finale. The university’s inaugural Purple Out — a majority of the 81,554 announced fans donned the team’s usual trim color — was matched by the Tigers wearing all-purple uniforms for the first time in four years.
The purple was a tribute to Military Appreciation Day, with war heroes honored continuously throughout the day during breaks in the action, and halftime entertainment including TAPS, a 21-gun salute and a performance by The Citadel’s Summerall Guards.
The most famous veteran in the stadium had his moment in the sun, too. Daniel Rodriguez, the Tigers’ second-year walk-on receiver and Army veteran who received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star when he was wounded in a 2009 battle in Afghanistan, led his team down The Hill waving the American flag in pregame ceremonies.
About three hours later, the 25-year-old Rodriguez took a jet sweep toss from quarterback Cole Stoudt on 4th-and-goal from the 2 and snuck in around right end for his first collegiate touchdown with 14:10 remaining.
“I was really thinking about my buddies still in the military, and I’ve lost 24 friends in different conflicts,” Rodriguez said. “It was kind of just for them, and everything that I’ve gone through, celebrating that with everybody.”
Oh, and it was Senior Day, too. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and his mates made their final individual jog down The Hill, and Boyd rewarded the Clemson faithful with his sixth career 5-touchdown game through the air.
The son of a Navy man, Boyd completed 21 of 28 passes for 288 yards, connecting with (in order) sophomore tight end Stanton Seckinger, freshman receiver Mike Williams, junior wideouts Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, and fifth-year senior tailback Roderick McDowell for touchdowns.
When Boyd trotted out with the offense to start a drive with 1:39 left in the third quarter, Clemson called timeout, and removed Boyd from the game. That allowed the crowd their chance to salute their three-year record-setting leader, who won his 31st game Saturday — one off the school record.
Boyd reciprocated, helmet in hand, jogging out near midfield and saluting all four sides of Memorial Stadium.
“I thought I was going to shed a tear — I tried to force out a tear,” Boyd said. “I think it’ll hit me when the season is actually, officially over. It was a very emotional day for some of the guys.”
In another senior moment, linebacker Quandon Christian scooped a fumble and scored from 22 yards out, his first touchdown in 51 career games.
Defensively, a couple of Thomas Warren field goals in the second half prevented Clemson from its first shutout in five years. But The Citadel (5-7) ended its season with minus-4 passing yards on 1-of-5 attempts, the first Clemson opponent ever to finish with negative passing yards.
“I was disappointed. I believe we could have played better,” Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins said. “I wish we could have had some more first downs, and could have held on to the ball. Their defensive scheme is the best we have gone against in our four years running the triple option. The talent they have is something we have not seen in a long time.”
The Bulldogs rushed 57 times for 176 yards, an average of 3.1 yards a carry. Clemson produced 208 yards on the ground, led by McDowell’s 108 yards.
Ben Boulware, Clemson’s freshman linebacker who had to sit out the first half after his targeting infraction Nov. 14, led the Tigers with nine tackles — all gathered on the same fourth-quarter drive.
The Tigers have scored 206 points in their last four games since getting shellacked by Florida State, and put up 50 points in three consecutive efforts for the first time in school history.