COLUMBIA — In Clemson’s previous four losses to South Carolina, one trend haunted the offense: a minus-6 figure in the turnover margin, losing that statistic in each of the four games.
On Saturday, Clemson went minus-6 on one night. On the road. At a top-10 opponent.
That’s not gonna get it done, and everybody from Tajh Boyd to the team caterer knows it. During its five-game winning streak in the series, South Carolina scored 62 points off turnovers (21 on Saturday night) and allowed none to the Tigers.
“We just never really played a complete, clean game against these guys,” Boyd said. “Credit to those guys, they do a great job capitalizing. But I think we hurt ourselves for the most part every time we play these guys.”
One specific gaffe will hurt Boyd, a 31-game winner as Clemson’s quarterback who will go out with zero wins against his team’s most vitriolic rival, for a long time.
His team was trailing 24-17 with under nine minutes to go, and the Tigers (10-2) were driving in South Carolina territory. Boyd scrambled on second-and-9 when Gamecocks end Chaz Sutton stripped the ball loose and fell on it, giving USC its third takeaway of the night.
“Their guy did a great job — Tajh is fighting for extra yards, that’s his nature,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Their guy did a good job of getting in there and ripping the ball out.”
Boyd is the Tigers’ go-to guy in short yardage, and has never hesitated to tuck it and run up the gut, absorbing the most vicious of hits. But losing the ball in that situation will sting more than any slobber-knocker.
“Just trying to get extra effort. We had a miscommunication within the play, but I ultimately thought I was down,” Boyd said.
“I kind of thought I got down, I think I got lifted back up and the ball kind of came out. I would love to see that again. But that’s the makes and breaks of the game.”
That opened the floodgates. Punt returner Adam Humphries coughed it up making a punt return with 5:18 to go — the Tigers’ second fumble on a punt.
“I love Adam Humphries to death. Wouldn’t trade him for anyone,” Swinney said. “The last one, with Adam, it’s a one-touchdown game and we’ve been moving the ball all night. Give it right back to them and they capitalize, get points off the turnover there and make it 14, that killed us.”
Then Boyd tossed two picks in the last four minutes. Those weren’t nearly as significant as the first four turnovers, on which South Carolina scored three touchdowns.
“We didn’t help ourselves out on offense and special teams,” said junior receiver Sammy Watkins, who threw an interception on a trick play looking for Humphries on the opening drive.
“You’re going to lose the game with six turnovers against a great team. They made zero turnovers in (78) plays, and they won.”
“My job is to be the leader, make sure I’m positive,” Boyd said. “Ultimately, you’re furious, though.”