Sapakoff: Fixes for bad student fan behavior at South Carolina, and Clemson
Clemson players immediately set the tone for Clemson’s 34-10 victory Saturday night. As South Carolina fans jumped around whipping white towels during the traditional “Sandstorm” blast before the Williams-Brice Stadium opening kickoff, the Tigers were waving their own white towels on the sideline. They wanted a louder version.
Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow quickly reestablished Tiger momentum in the second half, weaving his way for a 61-yard touchdown play as his escort of blockers waved bye-bye to gasping Gamecocks chasers.
Clemson took a 27-0 lead on the way to a No. 1 ranking.
But it was Renfrow’s first touchdown catch – a 4-yard laser from Kelly Bryant on third down – that ignited a controversy that hopefully will carry over to Williams-Brice Stadium student section changes.
Water Bottle Gate: Water bottles and some other debris flew out of the student section adjacent to the end zone.
When head coach Dabo Swinney complained, Clemson was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
When the penalty was announced, Gamecocks fans let go with by far their biggest roar during a night that offered little else for them to cheer about.
No one was hurt.
Much of the interaction between South Carolina students and Clemson players was as amusing as harmful.
But the stadium public address announcer twice told students to stop throwing objects.
Some rivalry night, it might get worse.
“It’s just dangerous,” Swinney said. “I’m sure that the event management folks here will address that. I know there is a lot of emotion, but those things just shouldn’t be a part of the game.”
Solution: Move the student section or visitors’ locker room to the other side of the field so opposing players don’t have to walk so closely to South Carolina students for every field entry and exit.
If that’s logistically impossible (which it surely isn’t), install a good security camera system and make sure students know they’re being watched by Big Brother (aren’t we all?).
Water Bottle Gate
Of course, it only takes a few knuckleheads. South Carolina students generally are well-behaved.
As Swinney told ESPN at halftime, “it’s just a few people here … That’s not a majority of these South Carolina people.”
Swinney also admitted he lost his poise. That’s not a majority of coaches.
Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel joked after the game that the coach should have to do push-ups for drawing a flag.
Christian Wilkins, Clemson’s playful defensive end, appreciated that Swinney “took the penalty for us.”
“They were throwing water bottles and stuff at us, and I was a little disappointed,” Wilkins said, “because one of the refs stopped me from taking a drink from one of the bottles and I was a little thirsty.”
Fans mixing it up with opposing players, and vice versa, that goes on a lot.
But not every stadium tempts fate like the layout at Williams-Brice.
And not every school lets its students storm the field after every game the way Clemson does. It’s a fun tradition with few unfortunate incidents, but cooler heads don’t seem to prevail quite as often these days.
Solution: A full two-minute cooling off period for the South Carolina game, allowing Gamecocks players the opportunity if they want to leave the field.
Along with security cams installed by Big Brother’s Best Behavior, Inc.
While it’s a relatively friendly rivalry, Carolina-Clemson football games stir emotion unlike anything else in the state. Sore losers on one side or the other are combustible.
Imagine being a South Carolina senior Saturday night, 0-4 against Clemson after entering college riding a five-game rivalry win streak that saddened two classes of Clemson seniors.
The Tigers’ traveling party has been known to stir it up, too. There were words and gestures Saturday night, reminiscent of Brad Scott’s line after the 2005 game.
The Tigers had just won in Columbia, 13-9.
Two years after winning 63-17.
One year after winning 29-7.
A South Carolina student was tearing into Scott – a former Gamecocks head coach turned Clemson assistant coach – right after the game. Scott locked eyes with the heckler and held his hands out a foot apart.
“You’re getting closer,” he said.
Trash talk is one thing, trash on the field another.
Time to make a few changes at Williams-Brice Stadium and Death Valley – before non-representative fans allowed too close to rival players start seriously trashing this rivalry.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff