The trash talk between Clemson and South Carolina on Saturday got very literal at Williams-Brice Stadium, as Gamecock fans hurled debris, including water bottles, at Clemson players multiple times.
The thrown trash got to be so out of hand that the PA announcer twice implored fans to stop, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney drew a personal foul while forcefully arguing for the referees to assess a penalty on South Carolina for its fans’ behavior.
After the game, Swinney said he believed the trash-throwing was “not representative of South Carolina,” but added that he was disappointed with fans’ conduct and reiterated his belief that the Gamecocks should have been penalized for it.
“It’s just disappointing to see that and it’s dangerous,” Swinney said. “The refs have to do something about that, and I lost my cool and they threw a flag on me because I came out of the box, and I did, I came out of the box. They didn’t throw a flag on me because of anything I said. They threw a flag on me because I was out of the box. It was about the fifth time.
“It’s just dangerous, but I’m sure that the event management folks here will address that. Again, I know there’s a lot of emotion, but those things shouldn’t be a part of the game.”
Swinney also said this is not the first game he’s been a part of in which fans threw objects at players, saying it’s happened “several times along the way.”
The behavior began before the opening kick, as multiple media outlets reported that the Tigers moved their pregame huddle away from the student section behind the north endzone to avoid thrown objects. When they returned to their locker room just before kickoff, more objects flew from the stands, according to video posted from the sideline.
It continued throughout the early portion of the game, as South Carolina fans grew frustrated with Clemson’s fast start, peaking with just about two minutes left in the first half. When the Tigers scored just in front of South Carolina’s student section, four or five bottles flew onto the field, and Swinney was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct while vigorously appealing for a penalty.
That drew one of South Carolina’s biggest cheers of the night, but it also served to galvanize Clemson, too, according to sophomore defensive back Trayvon Mullen.
“It (meant) a lot to us,” Mullen said of the personal foul. “Coach Swinney loves us like we’re his own. It just shows the type of coach he is and the type of person he is.”
All told, Swinney and his players said the object-tossing didn’t do much to disrupt their focus, a fact that Swinney said is indicative of his team’s composure.
“I just love that you have a group of guys that have the mental toughness to embrace that and be excited about, look forward to it. That’s what it takes. ... Mature football teams, they put the blinders on and they just play the game. And so at this point, that really prepared them for tonight, an emotional, hostile situation here, and they were excited for it,” Swinney said of his team’s play.
In fact, junior defensive lineman Christian Wilkins tried to have some fun with the situation, only to be stopped by an official who likely didn’t want to make the tension between the Clemson players and South Carolina fans worse.
“A lot was going on. I saw a lot of water bottles and everything. Just them throwing a lot of stuff,” Wilkins said. “I was a little disappointed because I tried to take a drink of one of the waters, and one of the refs stopped me. I was a little thirsty and I was tired, but the ref wouldn’t let me get a sip of water.”