The seniors were the first players in the stadium. One by one they rubbed Howard's famed rock and ran down in an aisle between two groups of screaming students. It was Senior Day in Death Valley. Their turn to shine.
The Clemson Tigers won 31-14 today against a South Carolina Gamecocks team with a defense in the top 10 in the nation all year until a 56-6 loss to Florida dropped their rank. Clemson took advantage of South Carolina's failing run defense, rushing for 184 yards on 47 attempts.
Once the running game started working, the passing game fell into place. Senior Cullen Harper arguably had his best start this season, completing 12 passes (on only 17 attempts) for 199 yards with one touchdown.
Senior Aaron Kelly caught four passes for 76 yards, including a crucial first down pass on 3rd-and-long, keeping the clock running for the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
James Davis rushed for 91 yards on 24 carries. Davis opted out of the draft to return and help a Clemson team reach national prominence. However, Davis was rarely used over the season, getting only 15 rushing attempts twice before today.
Davis scored three of the Tigers' four touchdowns today, prompting chants of "Ja-ames Da-vis" as the clock wound down.
Seniors Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons also took advantage of their last day at Death Valley, each grabbing eight tackles and one interception.
But as the seniors played their last game at Death Valley, Coach Swinney's time may just be beginning.
Swinney won his first game as Clemson's head coach against the in-state rival. With the turn-around season the Tigers have had since Swinney took over in October, it looks more and more like it will not be his last.
Swinney took over the team Oct. 13 after a late-game meltdown against Wake Forest put the Tigers' record at 3-3 (1-2 ACC). Swinney took over a team with shattered BCS hopes, and has since gone 4-2 (3-2).
Swinney will also be leading the Tigers to a bowl game, the tenth consecutive year the Tigers are bowl-eligible. With the Tigers surging again, they have given themselves a chance at an after-Christmas bowl in an ACC where everyone is beating everyone else.
But maybe more importantly, Swinney may have guaranteed himself a job here at Clemson. He is riding a three-game winning streak heading into the postseason. While Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips is traveling around the country looking for prospective head coaches, many Clemson fans are hoping he stops and gives Dabo Swinney the chance.
At the close of the game today, Swinney was given two Gatorade showers.
The players have made their choice known.
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