ORLANDO, Fla. — Jadeveon Clowney watched the premature celebration Saturday on South Carolina’s sideline. Teammates looked to the stands, waved to their families. They let their guard down early in the fourth quarter, acting like they’d already beaten Central Florida.
It drove Clowney nuts.
The star defensive end went up and down the sideline, telling teammates to keep their focus on the game. USC had an 18-point lead, but Clowney didn’t care. With 10 minutes left, he knew there was plenty of time for a UCF comeback.
The Knights scored two plays later on a 73-yard touchdown pass, cutting the Gamecocks’ impending blowout to a two-score game.
“They come out there, throw a touchdown on one play,” Clowney said. “You look at (teammates), and I was like, ‘I just told y’all. Y’all can’t take this — this ain’t high school no more.’
“I tell them every week, man, you’ve got to play until the clock ends around here in this league, because you don’t know what can happen in college football.”
The No. 13 Gamecocks beat UCF, 28-25, on Saturday, but the final 10 minutes wrapped the win in frustration. Afterward, as he spoke with ESPN on Bright House Networks Stadium’s turf, USC coach Steve Spurrier admitted it was a game “we probably deserved to lose.”
There’s been a lot of those this season. In each of USC’s four games — each for different reasons — it struggled playing until the clock ends.
Against North Carolina and Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks were held scoreless in the game’s final 20 minutes. In the past three games, the defense has allowed 37 fourth-quarter points. It would be 44 points, but Georgia scored a touchdown with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I just think, dealing with the young men we deal with, sometimes they become relaxed. They think the game is out of reach,” defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. “It’s two games in a row that this scenario has happened. We’ve got to be better in those situations. No matter what the offense does, no matter what the special teams does, it’s our job to stop them on defense.
“It’s definitely troubling, because eventually we’re going to run up on an opponent that’s going to beat us.”
So far, the Gamecocks haven’t run into that opponent. That, perhaps more than anything, should be considered. Even as the Gamecocks work through their struggles, they continue to win. They continue to linger outside the nation’s top 10.
In stretches, USC has played well enough to beat any team in the country. The Gamecocks scored four unanswered touchdowns against UCF, just as it did against Vanderbilt. It takes both sides of the ball to go on a 28-0 run.
Yet, there was frustration.
USC doesn’t always play the way it should, especially late. The Gamecocks have been inconsistent enough to lose to most of the teams left on their schedule. If something doesn’t change, the outcomes could reverse.
“It’s frustration, especially because we want to be leaders on defense,” said cornerback Victor Hampton, who had his first interception of the season Saturday. “That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on, not giving up big plays, keeping the ball in front of us and making a team actually earn a touchdown. So, it’s definitely frustration, but we got a W. We’re going to build on it, and we’re just going to try to learn from the mistakes. We’re going to go back and watch the film, and we’re not going to get down.”