CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney vividly remembers a phone call he received several years ago while his Clemson football team was in the midst of a five-game losing streak to rival South Carolina.
Swinney, whose Tigers were floundering and searching for ways to stop the skid, answered his phone and heard the easily recognizable voice of Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks' coach at the time.
Spurrier and Swinney were adversaries on the field, but off it the two of them had an entertaining give-and-take relationship.
Spurrier had a pretty good idea as to how the Gamecocks were able to consistently beat the Tigers. Turns out the two coaches were on the same page: turnovers.
"'Yeah, I don't know why y'all just turn that ball over every time y'all play us,"' Spurrier told Swinney, who recounted the conversation Tuesday with a spot-on Head Ball Coach impression. "I'm like, 'Heck, I don't know either.'
"He's like, "'Every time, y'all just turn that ball over.'"
Clemson HC Dabo Swinney reflects on that 5-game losing streak vs South Carolina & what he learned to help the Tigers have a current 4-game winning streak in the rivalry. It includes a hilarious Spurrier impression."You can't allow this game to define your program." @wachfox pic.twitter.com/2pndtkzyHH— Matt Dowell (@TheMattDowell) November 20, 2018
That, Clemson did.
Immediately, the Tigers made it their mission to fix it.
There were years South Carolina was simply better — Swinney had no problem admitting that Tuesday — but the turnover numbers were glaring, too.
From 2009-13, the Tigers turned the ball over 15 times in five losses to South Carolina. By contrast, the Gamecocks turned it over just three times.
In the 2013 game alone, Clemson had six turnovers — four of which came in the fourth quarter. Clemson receiver Adam Humphries fumbled two punts and quarterback Tajh Boyd fumbled in crunch time on the South Carolina 30.
After that fifth loss, Swinney decided he needed to dig deep and make his team understand how important the smallest of details were in the biggest games. More disciplined football became the priority and the Tigers have not had any issues with the Gamecocks since.
"I don't know why, but I remember those games Clemson would be turning the ball over, just not playing as clean and I think a lot of that was kind of the emotions getting in the way," linebacker Kendall Joseph said.
"Now, it's still a big pride thing but we try to calm the emotions and just remind ourselves we've got to play clean football. That's what wins games. Emotion doesn't win games and for a while they were just caught up in the emotion of it."
As Clemson marches into its rivalry game that once again has College Football Playoff implications, Swinney's team still has turnover issues to address: the Tigers are only tied for 62nd in the nation for turnover margin. But the Gamecocks are ranked 91st and in a game like this one, those types of things matter.
Of course, Swinney knew that on his own, but Spurrier helped reinforce it.
"For me, that's what I tried to stay focused on. A lot of times people didn't want to hear that (because Clemson was still losing)," Swinney said. "But I was like, 'Hey man, how about the progress we're making as a program?'
"If we continue to do these things, then we'll get back and we'll make this more consistent and competitive."
He was right.
Now he’s looking for a five-game win streak of his own.
Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow is still day to day after he sustained what appeared to be a head injury Saturday against Duke. Swinney said Renfrow was doing well, but that nothing has changed as far as an official update goes.
"Hoping for the best," Swinney said.
Jeff Scott up for prestigious award
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott is one of 15 finalists for the Broyles Award, given to college football's top assistant coach. Clemson has had quite the good fortune with the Broyles Award recently: defensive coordinator Brent Venables won it in 2016 and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott won in 2017.