Clemson’s defensive line chewed up Dylan Thompson and spit out South Carolina’s five-game winning streak Saturday.
The No. 23 Tigers delighted 82,270 victory-starved fans in Memorial Stadium with a 35-17 Palmetto Bowl win that came behind a freshman quarterback who played with a partially torn ACL and on the back of the nation’s top-ranked defense.
“I would say the line of scrimmage was the problem for our offense,” Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier said. “Give Clemson’s defensive guys credit. They are the best in the country. They played like the best.”
South Carolina’s first loss against Clemson since 2008 closed its worst regular season since 2007 with a 6-6 overall record.
“I told the guys, ‘Six-and-six might be what we are,’ ” Spurrier said. “We are bowl eligible, and we’re 6-6. We could have lost some we won. Maybe we just say, ‘This is where we are,’ and go try to win us a bowl game.”
The Gamecocks won’t learn their postseason fate for another week. Until then, they will pick up the pieces of a season that started with a No. 9 national ranking and ended with five losses in their last eight games.
South Carolina had won two straight this season entering Saturday and hoped to salvage the season with a sixth-straight victory over its archrival. Instead, it allowed four sacks, eight quarterback hurries and 13 tackles-for-loss.
“It’s kind of upsetting not beating this team in this rivalry our senior season,” Gamecocks offensive lineman A.J Cann said. “In the past we did a good job against them, but they came to play today, and they beat us.”
Clemson improved to 9-3 overall and notched head coach Dabo Swinney’s second win in the series.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley, who had two sacks, three tackles-for-loss, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble. “The fans deserve it, and the team deserves it. We just put it all together today, and we’re going to celebrate this special moment with the guys that we’re here with.”
The Tigers also are celebrating the thought of at least two more seasons with Watson at quarterback. He earned a place in the rivalry’s lore by completing 14-of-19 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns despite a partially torn ACL that will require surgery after the season.
“The only issue he had today was his (knee) brace was so tight it was making his calf go to sleep. It was losing circulation,” Swinney said. “Basically, that brace was his ACL today.”
Clemson averaged eight yards per play on the way to 491 yards behind freshman running back Wayne Gallman (191 rushing yards) and freshman wide receiver Artavis Scott (185 receiving yards), but Spurrier and quarterback Dylan Thompson put the loss on a Gamecocks offense that was held to its season-low in points and its third-lowest yardage total (339 total, 63 rushing).
“We made it clear all week that we wanted to be in good down and distance,” said Thompson, who set the school’s single-season passing record by passing for 249 yards to reach 3,280 for the season. “That’s how you beat teams with a great d-line. They did a good job of keeping us out of a good down and distance. That’s how you win defensively. We just didn’t make enough plays to win the game.”
Spurrier, who coached his 400th game Saturday, is now 6-4 against the Tigers at South Carolina.
“Clemson was better than us, they were better than us today,” he said. “They played better, and they coached better, and we got beat. Simple as that.”
USC: P.Cooper 20 run (Fry kick), 3:41.
Clem: Scott 53 pass from D.Watson (Lakip kick), 2:26.
Clem: Gallman 5 run (Lakip kick), 11:14.
Clem: D.Watson 1 run (Lakip kick), 4:55.
USC: FG Fry 47, :03.
Clem: Scott 70 pass from D.Watson (Lakip kick), 4:30.
USC: Byrd 12 pass from Thompson (Fry kick), 7:49.
Clem: D.Watson 1 run (Lakip kick), 2:35.
|Time of Possession||31:20||28:40|
South Carolina, Davis 12-39, P.Cooper 2-18, Da.Williams 7-15, Wilds 2-11, Carson 1-1, Thompson 9-(minus 21).
Clemson, Gallman 27-191, Scott 3-13, D.Watson 5-13, Humphries 2-8, Stoudt 1-1, Dye 1-0, Team 1-(minus 1).
South Carolina, Thompson 21-39-0-249, P.Cooper 2-2-0-27.
Clemson, D.Watson 14-19-0-269, Stoudt 1-2-1-(minus 3).
South Carolina, Da.Williams 4-70, Davis 4-28, Roland 3-26, Adams 3-23, P.Cooper 2-45, Anderson 2-29, Carson 2-19, Brent 1-20, Byrd 1-12, Jones 1-4.
Clemson, Scott 7-185, M.Williams 3-59, Leggett 2-13, Humphries 1-10, Seckinger 1-2, Gallman 1-(minus 3).