Neil White

Commentary: USC’s dominance of Clemson becoming habit-forming

Clemson might hold a 23-win advantage in the series with South Carolina, but that serves as little solace today to Tiger players, coaches and fans. In fact, they’re starting to forget how sweet victory can taste after USC’s fifth consecutive victory Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The Gamecocks have so completely turned the tables on their instate foe that it didn’t matter the Tigers entered the game as the No. 6 team in the nation and were led by two of the biggest stars in school history, quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.

The prolific pair never earned a victory against USC, and this loss was a fifth consecutive one by a double-digit margin.

Just as the Gamecocks used to do in this game, the Tigers made the mistakes — three lost fumbles and three interceptions — that proved costly. And the faithful dressed in orange left Columbia wondering what their team must do to make things right in their world again.

It’s a feeling that USC fans endured for years. The Tigers rolled to 10 wins in the previous 12 meetings heading into the 2009 game, including two streaks of four in a row (1997-2000 and 2002-05). Over the history of a rivalry that dates to 1896, the Tigers have won three or more consecutive games 11 times, which included a record seven in a row from 1934-40.

But that’s nothing more than a history lesson now. USC coach Steve Spurrier has Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s number after leading the Gamecocks to three wins in Williams-Brice and two wins in Death Valley over the past five years. The scores speak to the dominance: 34-17, 29-7, 34-13, 27-17 and 31-17.

“They’re all very similar,” said Spurrier, who called the win “wonderful” several times.

Most significantly, the wins have come against some of the better teams in Clemson history, including the past two seasons when the Tigers entered the game with one loss. The Gamecocks defeated the ACC championship squad in 2011.

This stretch of victories has coincided with USC’s golden era, when the Gamecocks have won 41 games since the start of the 2010 season.

Once again, USC’s best players stepped up as the top Tigers faltered. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw passed and ran with the same brilliance he displayed in the 2011 victory. Junior defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles posted a team-high six tackles to go with 2.5 sacks of Boyd.

And just as Clemson fans used to brag that Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers never scored against the Tigers, USC fans can say Watkins never scored against the Gamecocks. The past four South Carolina defenses also completely contained Boyd, who completed 51 of 98 passes for 564 yards and two touchdowns in his career. The Gamecocks sacked him 19 times and picked off five of his passes.

This win sent another group of USC seniors on their way without knowing what it was like to lose to the Tigers. Junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who will leave USC after three seasons for the NFL, smiled at the reality of that.

“That sealed the deal for me,” Clowney said.

Even a win by Missouri against Texas A&M, which sent those other Tigers to the SEC championship game, couldn’t dampen the euphoria surrounding another win against Clemson. The Gamecocks have won at least 10 games for three consecutive seasons.

The coach thanked the loud sellout crowd, credited his younger players for their progress, and saluted Shaw as the program’s best quarterback.

On this night, he didn’t need to take a jab at Swinney or the Clemson fans. A fifth straight dominant performance did all the talking for him.

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