COLUMBIA — Clemson's C.J. Spiller looked like a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate for exactly one play against South Carolina. The versatile senior took the opening kickoff and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown.
But Spiller did little to distinguish himself after those first 19 seconds. He managed just 37 yards from scrimmage, 18 rushing yards (nine carries) and 19 yards receiving. He also fumbled just after the half.
'We wanted to make (Spiller) work for everything he got against us,' USC linebacker Eric Norwood said. 'We did a good job of containing him and not letting him get outside on us. We tackled well and that's the key with (Spiller).'
Spiller, in most national polls and ratings, is in the Heisman mix with Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, Stanford RB Toby Gerhart and Texas QB Colt McCoy.
When asked after the game if he thought his performance against the Gamecocks ended his Heisman chances, a dejected Spiller responded, 'What do you think? I sure didn't help them.'
Not only is Spiller hurting with a turf toe condition he has played through the entire season, he was battling an upset stomach and a groin strain.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Spiller also tweaked a muscle in his groin during a return.
Gamecocks running back Kenny Miles looked at his matchup with Spiller as a personal challenge.
'I'm a competitor, so I want to compete against the best,' Miles said. 'C.J. is definitely one of the best running backs in the country.'
Miles, who did not have a carry against Florida two weeks ago and was used sparingly in losses to Arkansas and Tennessee, rushed for a game-high 114 yards on 17 attempts.
It was Miles' third 100-yard rushing game of the season (Kentucky, Vanderbilt) as the Gamecocks rolled up 223 rushing yards against the Tigers. It was USC's most yards on the ground against Clemson since rolling for 314 in 1996.
USC had the most rushing success out of the spread formation, running Miles between guards or tackles.
'(Offensive line coach Eric Wolford) likes that play a lot,' head coach Steve Spurrier said. 'The offense line blocked it well for most of the game.'
The much-maligned offensive line had one of its most productive games of the season. It didn't have a single false start or holding penalty, something that had been an issue throughout the fall. 'It was phenomenal blocking,' Garcia said. 'Overall, it was a good day for us running the football.'
While it was overshadowed by a poor yards-from-scrimmage outing, Spiller did become the FBS' all-time leader in kick returns for TDs with his 88-yard score on the opening kickoff.
Spiller has seven for his career, passing Anthony Davis of Southern Cal (1972-94) and Tulsa's Ashlan Davis (2004-05).Spiller also jumped former East Carolina star Chris Johnson for fifth place on the FBS career all-purpose yardage list.
Don't be surprised if USC first-year offensive line coach Eric Wolford's name begins to surface in a couple of head coaching searches.
Wolford has been mentioned in connection to Youngstown State's opening. Some thought Penguins officials were already on the way to Columbia on Saturday. Akron could potentially be another team interested in Wolford, who arrived this season after successful runs at Arizona and Illinois.
Saunders plans return
USC coach Ellis Johnson said last week that he didn't think any of his players were leaving early for the NFL. The only player on the team he said he wasn't sure about was junior tight end Weslye Saunders.
But Saunders said after the game he intends to return for his senior season. 'I'm pretty much set on coming back,' Saunders said, adding he is on track to graduate in 2011.
Spurrier said the fans were just as loud as they were in the Thursday night win against then-No. 4 Ole Miss back in September ... Michael Palmer (six catches, 106 yards) notched the first 100-yard receiving game for a Clemson tight end since 1970, when John McMakin had five grabs for 107 yards against The Citadel.
Gene Sapakoff, Andrew Miller,Travis Haney and Travis Sawchik contributed to this report.