COLUMBIA — Melvin Ingram scooted through Clemson’s offensive line with one quick move. South Carolina’s senior defensive end had lined up at tackle for this third-down play at USC’s 14-yard line with 14 minutes left in Saturday night’s game. Clemson, down 14 points, desperately needed to score a touchdown.
The Tigers’ hopes of doing that slipped away when Ingram grabbed Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd nine yards behind the line of scrimmage and pulled him down. Clemson settled for a 40-yard field goal, making too small of a dent in USC’s lead on a night when the Tigers’ offense, so dominant earlier this season, proved no match for the Gamecocks’ defense.
South Carolina’s offense certainly did its part in a historic and thorough 34-13 win that had most of the 83,422 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium bouncing so furiously that the press box swayed several times. The Gamecocks outgained Clemson, 420-153 and won the time of possession by 14½ minutes.
Sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw played the best game of his young career: 210 passing yards and three touchdowns, 107 rushing yards Gamecocks shut down Clemson and a touchdown.
But it was the Gamecocks’ defense, which anticipated this showdown with a dangerous Clemson offense, that stuffed the Tigers when it had to. Never was that more apparent than on the drive that ended with Ingram’s sack — one of five for USC, to go along with seven hurries. The constant pressure “made a lot of difference,” said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.
Two plays before Ingram’s sack, Clemson had first-and-10 at the 15. In the second quarter, Clemson had first-and-goal at the 10 and ended up settling for a field goal.
Now, the Tigers (9-3) must regroup for next weekend’s ACC championship game against 11-1 Virginia Tech in Charlotte. The Gamecocks (10-2) won’t play for the SEC championship, but still ended the regular season by winning 10 games for just the second time in school history, and first time since 1984. USC hadn’t won three straight games over Clemson since 1968-70.
“We were hoping to play our best game of the year, and we probably did,” said USC coach Steve Spurrier. “They don’t own us right now. That’s for sure.”
USC led 17-10 at halftime and outgained Clemson 271-81, as the Tigers’ offense looked more like the group that sputtered to 337 yards in last week’s loss at North Carolina State than the one that gouged Auburn and Florida State for 624 and 443 yards in September.
The Gamecocks jumped out to a 10-0 lead after Connor Shaw’s 49-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bruce Ellington with 6:36 left in the first quarter. Spurrier said it “might have been one of our prettiest plays all year.” The Gamecocks scored points on their first two drives and were in great shape. Clemson tied the game at 10 on a field goal with 6:14 left in the second quarter, but USC outscored the Tigers 24-3 after that.
As the clocked ticked down on USC’s third straight convincing win over Clemson – the margins were 22 and 17 the past two years — USC’s players doused Spurrier. When the game ended, Spurrier chased down the referee and grabbed the game ball so he could have it to commemorate this night and place it in a trophy case. The towels waved and the fans celebrated USC’s most successful season in 27 years and the Gamecocks’ seniors soaked it all in.
“We can always say when we were here,” Ingram said, “we owned the state of South Carolina.”