COLUMBIA — Tajh Boyd wanted to be remembered as a great quarterback, as a winner and, yes, as a legend.
Clemson’s senior quarterback had his opportunity Saturday night inside Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers’ offense was driving for a potential game-tying touchdown deep in South Carolina’s territory. It was the kind of drive that could cement a legacy.
Instead, the football — and Boyd’s chance to finally beat the Gamecocks — fumbled from his hands.
No. 10 South Carolina beat No. 6 Clemson, 31-17, before a crowd of 84,174 at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks forced six turnovers, including three from Boyd in the fourth quarter. After Boyd’s fumble, he threw two interceptions.
USC (10-2) won its fifth straight game over Clemson for the first time in the rivalry’s 111-game history. It’s the furthest one team has extended a streak since 1940, when Clemson (10-2) won its seventh straight.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” Boyd said. “I’ve just got to make sure everybody’s spirits are lifted. Can’t dwell on it. Clemson will beat Carolina again.”
Just not this night. Not in the past five years. And, with a young team coming back, USC coach Steve Spurrier would like to think not for the foreseeable future.
How steadfast is the foundation South Carolina has built? Boyd’s two interceptions went to freshman linebackers Skai Moore and T.J. Hollomon.
Spurrier was beaming afterward, a proud papa who’d watched his youngsters come of age, much like the Gamecocks’ football program has under his leadership. For the third straight season, USC reached 10 wins. South Carolina didn’t get the Missouri loss they wanted, thus finishing second in the SEC East while Mizzou will play Auburn in next week’s SEC Championship Game.
Regardless, Spurrier was proud of his team.
“It’s pretty neat to go 10-2 with this team,” Spurrier said. “At one time, it was called the youngest team in America. So they’ve really achieved. I’m really proud of this team. I was thinking back, of all the teams I’ve had, these guys may have achieved the most for a bunch of young guys that hadn’t played all that much and didn’t have a bunch of experience. They’ve really played well this year.”
The future is bright for South Carolina. On Saturday, the focus was more on the ending of one era.
Senior quarterback Connor Shaw finished his home career 17-0, a remarkable record worthy of being put on his tombstone many years from now. Junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with the Gamecocks — also played his final game inside Williams-Brice Stadium.
The two stars led another double-digit win over their rival. Shaw only completed 14 of 26 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown, but his speed was too much for Clemson’s defense. Shaw ran for 94 yards on 22 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“This is special, man. It’s special to me, it’s special to the players, us seniors,” Shaw said. “This is why we came to South Carolina. To finish out with the seniors not losing to them is huge.”
While Shaw and South Carolina’s offense rolled, Clowney and the defense handed Boyd a long, frustrating night.
Boyd was sacked five times, never able to get into a rhythm. Clowney got his first sack since Sept. 14. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles had 2.5 sacks, another huge game for a junior who said he will enroll early in the NFL Draft.
Boyd’s 225 passing yards were overshadowed by the two interceptions. Surprisingly, Clemson’s best offensive player was running back Roderick McDowell, who ran for 111 yards on 14 carries.
McDowell’s 4-yard touchdown run tied the score at 17 with 3:01 left in the third quarter, but Clemson’s offense fell apart in the final 15 minutes.
“Every year, we talk about the same thing when we play against them,” said Clowney, who called Boyd “scared” in the offseason. “We watch them play against other teams, and nobody is really getting good pressure against him. We know if we can get him a little pressure and contain him, hit him a few times, he starts getting the jitters back there and starts throwing crazy balls. And that’s what he did.”