Not very long ago, The Citadel football coach Brent Thompson wasn’t even expecting to be able to play games in September, or even this fall, but suddenly, he’s trying to get his team ready to line up against the No. 1 team in the nation.
The Southern Conference announced in early August league games would be postponed until next spring … but left the option open to schools to play nonconference games. In the past month, The Citadel was able to put together four nonconference games, and started the season with a 27-6 defeat at South Florida.
The Citadel originally was scheduled to play at Clemson on Nov. 14, but so much remained up in the air.
“We knew that (Clemson) was going to have one opening, and we knew that one was probably going to South Carolina, being that it was the Palmetto Bowl,” Thompson said. “And when the SEC came out with a 10-game, conference-only schedule, eventually we were the last man standing.”
Clemson, coming off a season-opening 37-13 win at Wake Forest last week, will open its home slate Saturday by welcoming The Citadel to Death Valley.
Clemson’s Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 81,500 but will seat roughly 19,000 socially distanced and masked spectators on Saturday.
“We only get six home games this year, but we’re just happy to have the opportunity,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose team is pursuing a sixth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title and a third national title in five years. “We want to enjoy every single opportunity that we get and we have a greater appreciation for all that’s gone into making it happen.
“Clemson has done a great job of creating a great atmosphere with all the constraints that are in place. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Clemson is 34-0 all-time against Football Championship Subdivision teams since the NCAA formed the division prior to the 1978 season and has been dominant against The Citadel, winning 17 in a row in the sporadic series, dating to a 6-0 upset in 1935. The Tigers have outscored the Bulldogs 196-26 in four meetings since 2000, including a 61-3 victory in their last game in 2017.
Despite that dominance, Swinney is wary of defending The Citadel’s option attack.
“They’re an option football team that takes a lot of pride in what they do,” Swinney said. “They can embarrass you quickly if you don’t play with the type of discipline that it takes every single play for four quarters. They keep attacking.
“They went to Georgia Tech last year and beat them. They’ve beaten South Carolina. They went to Tuscaloosa (Alabama) a couple of years ago and it was 10-10 at halftime. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
The Citadel, which receives a much-needed $450,000 payout for playing at Clemson, rushed for 200 yards last week in the loss at South Florida, marking the seventh time in the Bulldogs’ last eight games against FBS opponents that they’ve rushed for at least 200 yards. Senior quarterback Brandon Rainey led the way with 65 yards on 20 attempts.
“We’re going to do our best to compete with them on their level for as long as we possibly can and do everything we can to make it a football game for them,” Thompson said.
Clemson was dominant in its opener against Wake Forest, getting 351 passing yards and three touchdowns (two on the ground) from junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and a school-record 18th 100-yard rushing game from senior running back Travis Etienne, the two-time ACC Player of the Year.
The upcoming schedule sets up nicely for the Tigers, who have a bye week before returning to action with back-to-back home games against Virginia and Miami on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10.