David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s win over Clemson.
NO. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA 31, NO. 6 CLEMSON 17
5!: Never in anyone’s wildest dreams did they think a five-game winning streak against the Tigers could ever happen. Never. David Lee Roth had a better chance of winning Best Actor than USC did of winning five. It was only 10 years ago that the Gamecocks had been smashed 63-17 on the same field by Clemson, and Clemson made that look rather pedestrian, a rout in a series that had become decidedly one-sided. The Tigers still lead the all-time series by 23 games, but how many would they give back to have one of the past five? No coach and no team at Clemson has ever lost to USC like this, five straight years, where the closest game was 10 points. And it’s the same formula. It’s not just that USC has been the better team, it’s that Clemson is doing a fine job beating itself. As The (Charleston) Post & Courier’s Aaron Brenner pointed out afterward, during the streak, USC has scored 62 points off Tiger turnovers. Clemson has no points off USC turnovers. The Gamecocks are not only confident they’ll win, they’re confident they’ll win because Clemson will screw up and give them opportunities. Hard to deny that logic these days.
DON’T GET USED TO IT: I don’t write that in a threatening manner. I’m saying, don’t take beating Clemson for granted. Each should be cherished, after all the heartbreak from past players and coaches that I’ve heard.
ONE MORE TIME: Connor Shaw has won a lot of games at USC, and he has the chance to win one more. Saturday was his final performance at Williams-Brice Stadium, though, and in the words of Jack Buck, “pardon me while I stand and applaud.” I haven’t covered a tougher kid, one who wasn’t that straight-talented but who wanted to win so badly that he made the others around him great. On Saturday, Steve Spurrier gave him the ball in the second half and told him to go win. Shaw obliged, taking every Clemson opportunity and turning it into another chance at greatness for himself. The Gamecocks got some gifts, oh yes, but Shaw’s soldier-ish approach, running for every crucial first down and laying out that beaten and bruised body for more punishment, deserves recognition. He’s surely earned it.
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COOP: Spurrier said that freshman Pharoh Cooper was really going to be something by the time he left USC. He’s already a part of rivalry lore, spelling Shaw and aiding the Gamecocks’ shut-down rushing game. Cooper was there to Wildcat the Gamecocks downfield, and when they needed the throat-clenching score, he delivered. Having run all night, he took two steps, saw Clemson’s defense draw in, and elevated for a simple one-handed jump pass to Brandon Wilds, who was more than happy to boogie for the game-over touchdown. The kid from Havelock, N.C., etched his name into the rivalry and showed that it may not be an automatic handoff from Shaw to Dylan Thompson for the quarterback duties next year.
Y’ALL CAN’T SEE ME: Shaq Roland is the most talented receiver on the roster, but he had problems getting out of his own way. He seems to have shed that label, and then some. His touchdown catch was one of those plays that can’t be coached, going high to catch an uncatchable ball and dragging his toes in-bounds. He knew it was a touchdown, as he skidded to a stop on his butt and sat up with arms folded, nodding, ready to see the official signal it. He was vindicated.
FOREARMED: Lorenzo Ward didn’t know if Brison Williams would play a week ago. As Sammy Watkins tried a trick double pass to Adam Humphries, Williams and his busted forearm read it, leaped and picked it off smoother than left-out butter. So long, early momentum.
WHO’S THAT GUY? Any port in a storm, right? Connor McLaurin was open, so Connor McLaurin got the ball thrown to him, never mind that he hadn’t sniffed the ball in his career. He did what he was supposed to do, catching it, and then did more, rumbling 15 yards. It was DiMarco-esque.
PANCAKED: Another game against Tajh Boyd, another masterful performance by the defensive line. Boyd was sacked five times (giving him 16 sacks in his rivalry career) and coughed up the ball in the biggest play of the game, that of Chaz Sutton just ripping it out of his arms and falling on it. It is unfair, tremendously, that Boyd is the greatest quarterback in Clemson history, but will always be remembered as the guy who won all the games except the ones the fans wanted. Hey, they want to idolize a guy named Homer, that’s their business.
WE’LL TAKE WHAT YOU GIVE US: Fumble away two punts? Throw two late-game interceptions? If you insist Skai Moore picked off one pass and fell on the first punt fumble, where it looked like a fellow Tiger collided with Humphries. Kaiwan Lewis knocked another one loose from Humphries and Kwinton Smith was there to snatch it. T.J. Holloman leaped to snag another high Boyd toss in the fourth quarter. USC’s defense gets better in a hurry against Clemson.
I LIVE FOR THIRD DOWN: The first half was like Shaw was trying to force third-and-longs, just so he could move the sticks again. He picked up six of them, all over 6 yards. Shaw was going to do what needed to be done.
A FISTFUL OF WHITE: Corey Robinson is considering entering the NFL Draft. He may want to reconsider. He was nailed three times for holding on Saturday, all rather egregiously.
AVOID STRIPES: Whether it was just dumb luck or the guy not getting out of the way, USC had the referee get in two plays’ way. One was on a jump pass to Roland in the end zone, the other when Shaw was looking for a blocker on a run. For what it’s worth, the guy tackled pretty well.
OH WELL: Fans stayed in Williams-Brice to watch the end of the Missouri-Texas A&M game, and while their enthusiasm for the USC-Clemson game never dampened, A&M’s last possession took a bit of wind away. Missouri won and denied the Gamecocks the SEC Championship Game, and USC was left with a fine 10-2 season that was, again, so close to playing for the title. In the past three seasons, the Gamecocks have beaten the SEC East champion in every year. They have still not won the SEC East.
IF ONLY : I debated putting this in here, because this is a great day across Gamecock Nation and I hesitated to mention Buzz Killington. But after a colleague did the same, I feel compelled.
USC doesn’t lose to Tennessee, not only is it in Atlanta next week, it’s in the hunt for the national championship.
The national championship.
USC is feeling good, as it should be. This team wasn’t dominant, and went through stretches where the offense was great, but the defense wasn’t; then the defense was great, and the offense wasn’t. Somehow, the Gamecocks banded together to post their third straight season of at least 10 wins, and won their rivalry game, and matched the program-high of six SEC wins.
But knowing that loss to Tennessee is on the schedule, and knowing how it was lost, and knowing what it could have meant to be won
That’s just damned aggravating.
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