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The surprisingly spicy recent history of the Textile Bowl

There is more than meets the eye here.

Clemson v North Carolina State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

At first glance, there is nothing particularly interesting about the current state of the Textile Bowl. Dave Doeren is 0-7 against the Tigers. That’s a winning percentage of 0%, which is tied with every other coach currently in the ACC except for Dino Babers and Pat Narduzzi for some reason. But if you pull at some of the threads of this thing, there turns out to be a surprising amount of spiciness for a game between two programs with such lopsided results.

It wasted no time getting started either. Dave Doeren met number three Clemson at home on a Thursday in the third game of his tenure. It was ugly but it was anything but boring, with the Wolfpack proving more than competitive in the first half and for a chunk of the second half too. The game featured a pick-six wiped out by a timeout that was acknowledged after the interception, the infamous Brian Underwood play, and Clemson tackle Isaiah Battle punching a guy with a helmet on, which is always a smart move. Clemson would eventually take control after Underwood’s apparent touchdown was wiped out by some officiating that was looking at questionable in the rearview mirror. It may not have mattered in the end, but it would have at least been nice to know. Doeren, an outspoken man on rare occasions, made his feelings clear when he pretty plainly stated after the game that Underwood did not step out of bounds.

From there, Doeren’s track record against the ACC’s premier program would start to resemble his track record against ranked teams as a whole. State’s actually been competitive with the Tigers more times than not since Swinney took that program to the rare air it now inhabits. But Doeren has never beaten them. State hung 41 points on the Tigers in 2015, which is still the most any ACC team has scored on Clemson in regulation since 2013. Problem was it gave up 56, which is more than 41.

It was the next year 300 miles southwest of Raleigh in Memorial Stadium that the spiciness really got revved up. NC State nickelback Dravious Wright delivered a hit on Clemson running back Wayne Gallman that knocked Gallman out of the game. The legality of the hit was contested but was later cleared as legal by the ACC, an explanation that Clemson fans would accept graciously and immediately move on from.

There was a point in the second half of this game where a textbook facemask that would have given NC State a first-and-goal was passed up by the officiating crew. It would have been the first penalty of the game on the Tigers. NC State had 13.

You know what happened from there, but a lot of people left this one with something to gripe about. It didn’t help to calm the waters when Doeren specifically mentioned the hit on Gallman in a postgame interview, saying “we knocked their tailback out of the game” in response to a question about how the defense performed.

State’s best chance to get a win against the Tigers came the following year when Doeren’s best team got a home date with post-Deshaun Watson but pre-Trevor Lawrence Clemson. It was the fourth time in five years that the Pack proved pretty competitive, with the game coming down to the final possession before State again came up short. Had it won, it would have clinched the ACC Atlantic one week later.

It was after this one where the laptop incident occurred, something that neither head coach shied away from after Doeren made the initial comments. Doeren made some complaints about a laptop on Clemson’s sideline that he claimed violated the NCAA’s rule on technology on the sideline. Swinney called it a challenge to their integrity, then included a laptop as an icon on their play card a year later. The ACC eventually found no wrongdoing, but Doeren says he doesn’t regret it. Then both coaches said some weird crap about towels and went on their way.

Doeren’s words became the topic of conversation again the following year, although this time for no legitimate reason at all. Clemson fans, in their unending search to find someone who has disrespected what is consistently acknowledged as one of the top two programs in the country, ran with a story about Dave Doeren making comments about hitting their quarterback that they deemed inappropriate. This was the entire quote.

“You try to get him out of rhythm, you try to make him see things he hasn’t seen and you have to make plays. Rattle him a little bit. He hasn’t been rattled. He has made plays and he is a good football player and he has great talent around him. But if you can just get him to question what he’s looking at a little bit, give the D-line a little bit more time to get there and the blitzes a little more time to get there and get him on his back more than he wants to be on his back. All of those things add up. But that’s easier said than done.”

This actually happened. People were actually mad about this. An entire article was published about why he should have worded this differently.

I’m not bewailing any of this by the way. This is the kind of passionate silliness that makes college football the absolute best and absolute dumbest sport on the planet.

Things were calmer in recent games, mostly because they stopped being close. State lost in 2018 and 2019 by a combined scored of 96-17. The teams didn’t meet in 2020. Swinney did make a point to punch in one more touchdown in 2019 with his team up 49-10 and 11 seconds on the clock, which frankly I respected the heck out of. If they can’t stop you, they can’t stop you.

After the one year hiatus, the Textile Bowl returns this Saturday with Doeren trying to avenge a number of competitive losses (and some non-competitive ones) and finally get a win over the Tigers. Clemson in the ACC has largely lacked intrigue over the past decade given its dominance, but there has been more to the Textile Bowl than the current Tigers winning streak would lead you to believe. I can’t say as a State fan that it’s been fun, given that three of these losses made me want to cry, but most of the time it has not been boring. State has given Clemson a few legitimate challenges on the field, one very legitimate challenge to its streak of conference supremacy, and both programs have certainly given the other a lot to talk about during game week.