CLEMSON — For South Carolina, it was an unusual candidate playing a prominent role in a 27-17 victory over Clemson on Saturday.
For Clemson, it was the usual suspects culpable in defeat.
With USC starting quarterback Connor Shaw sidelined with a foot injury, the Gamecocks turned to backup Dylan Thompson, who in his second career start threw for his second 300-yard game.
No. 12 Clemson (10-2) was unable to consistently pressure Thompson. With time to throw, the sophomore shredded a suspect Clemson secondary that was without both of its starting cornerbacks. Thompson completed 23 of 41 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns to give No. 13 South Carolina (10-2) its third 10-win series in program history.
Steve Spurrier won his 65th game at South Carolina, making him the winningest football coach at USC.
“For a guy that hasn’t played much, (Thompson) had a pretty good game,” Spurrier said. “He’s not afraid to play.”
On a third-and-goal play with four minutes left in the game, Thompson waited and waited in the pocket and found Bruce Ellington open in the middle of the end zone to give South Carolina a 27-17 lead.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, brought in during the offseason to fix a woeful defense, tried everything. He tried odd fronts and even fronts. He tried dropping eight and only rushing three, he tried max blitzing. Nothing worked.
Again, Clemson’s defensive front was outplayed by USC’s offensive front. Again, the Clemson secondary failed to cover receivers and make tackles.
While Clemson was unable to disrupt South Carolina’s passing game, Gamecocks star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney demonstrated why he might be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Clowney registered 4½ sacks, overpowering and outmaneuvering Clemson offensive linemen. On another quarterback pressure of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Clowney forced one of two Boyd interceptions.
“You can’t block Jadeveon one-on-one,” Spurrier said.
In their previous two games, Clemson had allowed no sacks to the ACC’s top-ranked teams in sacks — Maryland and N.C. State. South Carolina had three sacks in the first 30 minutes.
Clemson center Dalton Freeman departs having never beaten South Carolina.
“This one hurts,” Freeman said. “I never thought (four in a row) would happen. Their front four dominated us.”
Said Clowney: “Everybody knows where the most physical ball comes out of — the SEC.”
A year ago, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins looked like a candidate to join Clowney as a first-round pick in 2014. But Watkins had another disappointing night in a season of disappointments.
Watkins finished with just 37 yards on four catches as Clemson was unable to get him involved in the short passing game. Clemson could never get into coordinator Chad Morris’ up-tempo offense.
“It wasn’t by design,” Morris said. “We wanted to get them the ball. We had a lot of three and outs.”
Clemson ran a season-low 59 plays and produced a season-low 328 yards. South Carolina held the ball for 39 minutes and produced 444 total yards.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney fell to 1-4 against South Carolina.
“We couldn’t get the ball in the third period. We just couldn’t stop them on third down,” Swinney said.