63-17: It Was An Empty Bleachers Kind of Game
|Monday, November 21, 2016 7:01 AM- -|
It was an empty bleacher kind of night in Columbia.
63-17. Just mention that score to any fan of Clemson or South Carolina, and they know the exact game you’re talking about. And they’ll either break out into a big smile or shake their head in disgust and walk away.
It was that kind of game, and it was that kind of night.
On November 23, 2003, a 7-4 Clemson football team did everything in its power to save head coach Tommy Bowden’s job by dismantling Lou Holtz and the South Carolina Gamecocks 63-17 in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Charlie Whitehurst tied the school record with four touchdown passes and Chad Jasmin added four 1-yard TD runs as the Tigers scored their most points ever in the 101-game series that began in 1896 -- and
their most points in a game since the 1981 national champs beat Wake Forest 82-24.
A crowd of 83,987 (fifth-largest at the time) showed up at Williams-Brice Stadium, most of them hoping to see a 5-6 South Carolina team break a two-game losing streak to the Tigers and earn a bowl berth. Most of them weren’t around to see the conclusion, with defensive linemen DeJuan Polk and Khaleed Vaughn carrying Bowden to midfield as a show of support.
Whitehurst did most of the damage early on. He had long touchdown passes on Clemson's first three possessions -- 36 yards to Derrick Hamilton, 28 yards to Airese Currie and 39 yards to Ben Hall -- and
completed his first 10 throws as the Tigers led 21-0 in the opening quarter.
Former running back Reggie Merriweather said the scout team did its job in getting the team prepared for what they would see against the Gamecocks.
“Myself and Chansi Stuckey were running the scout team offense that week,” Merriweather told TigerNet this week. “We just kind of gelled and learned the playbook and ran the scout team for the defense. They had Dondrial Pinkins, and we knew the defense was going to eat that up because they were stopping us like crazy.”
When South Carolina scored 10 straight points in the second quarter to tighten things up, Whitehurst pushed the Tigers to two more score. His 22-yard run helped set up Jasmin's first touchdown, and then he had passes of 28 yards to Kevin Youngblood and 26 yards to Tony Elliott as Jasmin scored with 12 seconds to go before halftime.
In the third quarter, Whitehurst got his record-tying fourth touchdown pass with a 27-yard toss to Duane Coleman.
The middle of the field was wide open.
“They were playing some kind of three-deep zone and the middle of the field was wide open,” Merriweather said. “The first couple of passes went for big yards and it was all downhill from there. And then the last touchdown was scored by Chansi, who was my roommate at the time. He was the option quarterback and they took Charlie out and put him in and ran a couple of plays and it wound up 63-17.
“The difference was preparation. I think we really prepared for that game, and it showed in the score.”
Merriweather had a chip on his shoulder because South Carolina failed to offer, even though he probably would have gone to Columbia if the Gamecocks had shown any interest. Instead, he got the kind of emails you would expect in a heated rivalry.
“I had a buddy of mine that I went to high school with, and he emailed me before the game and said, ‘I hope you have a good game but I hope you break your leg.’ I was angry about it then, but I can joke about it now. I hate them, but it’s fun to talk trash about the rivalry in a healthy way. But back then it was all hate. Some of those people, you played with them in high school or knew their families and it was very personal.”
Clemson rolled up 463 yards of total offense, while the defense held the Gamecocks to just 266 yards. Whitehurst was 18-of-26 for 302 yards and Jasmin led the ground game with 61 yards on 14 carries.
Clemson kicker Aaron Hunt kicked the first eight extra points, but let someone else take the ninth kick.
“Honestly, it was a fun game for everyone regardless of position, at least on our sidelines,” Hunt said. “After the game was in hand I went to Coach West. (In charge of field goal/extra point team that year) and asked if some of the other kickers could take the next extra point(s). I got an earful from him but eventually he let Fletcher Anderson knock through the last extra point. So that was neat.”
Defensive back Tye Hill is quick to let everyone know that he was 4-0 against the Gamecocks during his career.
“I feel like our mindset was to finish strong and we had nothing to lose,” Hill said. “I am from South Carolina, and we never felt like we were going to lose to them. And I never lost to them, not in my time. That was one team that everybody knew everybody. We both had a lot of in-state kids and for me, I ran track in high school against Troy Williamson. We battled in Class AA for a number of years. It was a bragging rights deal and you would see them in the offseason you wanted to have the upper hand and I was blessed to be 4-0. “
Hill said that the Tigers switched up their defense in the second half, and he was able to take in a sight that he will never forget and is really the lasting memory that many Clemson fans have from that particular game.
“I remember looking in the stands and seeing so many people leaving,” Hill said. “I kid you not. I remember seeing empty, gray bleachers. And the game was a sellout. By the fourth quarter – we had played a lot of man – we played zone and we had time to look around. I was looking around and just remember everybody leaving.”
Hunt will forever remember it as a great day.
“Just the final score, really, is what I will remember,” Hunt said. “I'll never forget 63-17! Anytime 80 points are scored and your team gets 63 of them, that's a great day.”