South Carolina rides defense to fourth straight win over Clemson
CLEMSON — Never has South Carolina dominated Clemson more thoroughly than in the past four meetings, a 4-0 run capped by Saturday night’s 27-17 win at Memorial Stadium.
The Gamecocks outscored the Tigers 124-54 in those four games, and their other margins of victory were 17, 22 and 21 points. The only other time USC won four straight over Clemson, 1951-54, the combined score was 53-15 and USC won by 20, six, seven and five.
Even in USC’s only other three-game winning streak, 1968-70, the combined score was 72-48 and USC won by four, 14 and six. (The longest winning streak for either side in the series is seven by Clemson from 1934-40.)
“The history ain’t really got nothing to do with anybody that’s here now,” said senior spur outside linebacker DeVonte Holloman. “We’re trying to start our own history. Whatever happened before we got here, we threw that out the window and we wanted to come in and start our own tradition here. And I think we did that.”
For the second straight year, USC’s defense manhandled Clemson’s prolific offense. The Gamecocks sacked Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd five times last year and six times this year. Last season, USC held Clemson to 13 points and 153 yards, both season lows. This season, Clemson’s 17 points were a season low and its 328 yards were its second fewest.
“We felt like we had studied their protection enough to where we knew we had some guys on their offensive line that we thought we could run some (twist and stunt) games on, that we thought we could give (Boyd) a chance to make him move his feet,” said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. “We knew going into the game that if he didn’t get his first (passing) read, he was going to take off and run.
“I love the ACC. I coached at Virginia Tech for seven years. But I think our style of football is a little bit different in the Southeastern Conference. So I think we play a lot more physical football.”
Ward said USC took away Boyd’s first read and rattled him by double-teaming receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, who combined for just five catches and 80 yards.
“We doubled both of them at times and put (free safety) D.J. (Swearinger) one-on-one in the slot,” Ward said. “We felt like he could handle the slot guy. We’d take our two safeties and one would cut to (Watkins) and the other one would cut to (Hopkins). I think that hurt Tajh in his read initially, which gave us time to get there (in pass rush).”
While USC’s offense didn’t need to score as many points as most observers figured it would, the Gamecocks did gain 444 yards, 256 in the second half. Receiver Ace Sanders had six catches for 119 yards, tying his career high for catches and breaking, by 40, his career high for yards. His 34-yard touchdown catch with 11:48 left in the third quarter put USC up for good, 17-14.
“We wanted to show people that our offense is not just dependent on our defense, that we can actually play on our side of the ball, too,” Sanders said. “I think we did a good job of that.”
Now, as the Gamecocks try to equal last season’s program-best 11-2 record, they wait on their bowl game destination, which will be revealed next Sunday. In the month-plus between now and the bowl, they can enjoy how they did little wrong in the second half at Clemson, where they outscored the Tigers 17-3, limited them to 91 yards and had the ball for 23:19, compared to 6:41 for Clemson.
The only thing the Gamecocks didn’t get quite right was the celebration they wanted to give coach Steve Spurrier for his 65th victory at USC, a new school record.
“We planned a Gatorade bath, but the defense was on the field at the end of the game, so we didn’t get to get that,” Holloman said. “Maybe we’ll get him at practice or something.”