There are times when the words to describe pure, unadulterated joy are hard to come by. “Fear the thumb” had just become “talk to the hand,” Saturday night, and as I ran onto the field to celebrate this astonishing moment, my mind was reeling with so many emotions, I didn't know which one to grab on to.
I understand the appeal of two teams, from the same state, both ranked in the Top 10, facing off against each other. But, for decades, my favorite Sunday sports sections of the The State have been the ones in which South Carolina has won and Clemson has lost. I must admit, though, the idea of the Tigers being 10-1, or say, No.6 in the country, and having their hats handed to them by the Gamecocks, is becoming more appealing.
As I said in my pre-game post and repeated all afternoon to worried fans, “Clemson can not beat Carolina with the caliber of linemen, especially offensively they have on their roster.” I also said this was only the third “major” game of the season for Dabo Swinney's team. They beat Georgia, were trounced by Florida State and that USC would be the third, and that competition matters.
I spoke with Steve Taneyhill a few minutes before he led the pregame Game-Cocks cheer, which reminded me of the 1992 clash. I remember asking him if he thought playing their first eight-game SEC schedule was a factor in the 24-13 win. He agreed it was, saying that playing Clemson was “just like playing another team.”
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I believe the Tigers came into the game with some doubts and a false sense of security about just how good they were, especially after the beat down by the Seminoles. After their trick play failed on the opening series, and the Gamecocks promptly marched down the field for a touchdown, they were reminded early of what it's like to play a focused SEC team.
This game was historic in so many ways. For one, the total will reach 1,825 days without a word from a Clemson fan. It has been, and will always be, a most pleasant silence. Extending the school and nation's longest home winning streak to 18, capping off a third-straight 10-win season, beating Clemson for a fifth-straight time and ensuring the Gamecocks of another good bowl trip -- priceless.
More than anything for me, the win was a perfect send off for the seniors and the juniors leaving early, but especially for Connor Shaw, now the winningest quarterback in USC history at 26-5 as a starter. He didn't have a great game passing (14-26, 152 yards, 1 TD), but his 123 rushing yards (net 94 after two sacks), were the difference. Clemson's defense had a good plan to stuff USC's running game, but they couldn't account for Shaw, who burned them time after time. Shaw did what he did his entire career at Carolina, whatever it took to help his team win.
The Gamecock defense did what I said would be a key, pressure Tiger quarterback Tajh Boyd and force him into making bad decisions, and take advantage of those mistakes by turning them into points. Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles and Vic Hampton all had outstanding games in their final appearance in Williams-Brice.
I would say the win has implications for recruiting, but the truth is the two schools aren't going head-to-head for as many players as in the past. Maybe is has something to do with the talent level in the state the last couple of years, but for whatever reason the two programs aren't recruiting the same type athletes.
What the 31-17 victory does do is warm the hearts of every member of the Gamecock Nation, especially us old timers. I don't suppose Dabo will be saying that “if his team played South Carolina 10 times, they would win five,” and that just might be what will keep this huge grin on my face for another year.