COLUMBIA — Whether Skai Moore returns for his senior season at South Carolina could depend on who the Gamecocks hire as their next head coach.
The junior linebacker reiterated Saturday his plan to consult with family before making a decision on leaving early for the NFL. But USC’s search for a new football coach could determine “a good part of it,” he said after the 37-32 loss to No. 1 Clemson. “I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen. I’m going to talk to my family, and go from there.”
Moore on Saturday led the Gamecocks with 13 tackles, and became the first USC player since Jasper Brinkey in 2006 to finish with 100 or more stops in a season. He led South Carolina in tackles and interceptions for the second straight year, and forced two fumbles against Clemson to help keep USC close.
USC junior receiver Pharoh Cooper was recognized along with South Carolina’s seniors before Saturday’s game, his last before leaving for the NFL. Moore chose not to take part in the Senior Day ceremony, and put his decision on hold.
“It’s really just mainly family, going home and sitting down and talking to them, and seeing how they feel about it, and just weighing out my options,” he said. “Just talking to them. Family is going to be the main thing.”
Greg Huegel keeps swishing the 3-pointers, and shanking the layups. Clemson’s freshman kicker is facing a demotion after sending an extra-point attempt wide right, his fifth missed or blocked point-after try of the season. Huegel did improve to 21-of-23 on field goal tries with a 36-yarder.
“We continue to struggle making an extra point, but we just don’t miss field goals,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I can’t explain it, other than, probably going to go with (Ammon) Lakip to kick the extra points and just take that pressure off of (Huegel). It’s kind of a mental thing, that’s all I can say.”
USC receiver Deebo Samuel enjoyed the best day of his career with a five-catch, 104-yard effort against the Tigers. The redshirt freshman added his first career touchdown on a seven-yard reception from Perry Orth.
“We’ve been trying to find that guy all season long, that guy to complement (Cooper),” said interim head coach Shawn Elliott. “And Deebo, he was injured for practically the entire season, and he came out and played really well. He’s got a great future.”
Samuel strained a hamstring in the opener, and missed seven games before returning with a four-catch, 27-yard effort last week against The Citadel. “Every time I tried to come back, I hurt it again. I was kind of getting down on myself,” he said. “But the coaches were like, ‘Keep working, keep training.’ And I’ve ended up playing the past two games.”
When the Tigers went into the tunnel before halftime, paper cups could be seen flying from the student section in the direction of the visiting team. Debris also rained on the field after multiple touchdowns scored by Clemson.
Senior offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain said earlier this week that Clemson players had lighters and batteries thrown at them in prior visits to Williams-Brice Stadium. “It was not nearly as bad as it’s been,” Mac Lain said Saturday. “Batteries, lighters, none of that stuff (today).”
This was the first trip to South Carolina’s stadium for many of Clemson’s key contributors. “It was crazy when I first walked out, my first time being here,” freshman receiver Deon Cain said. “The fans were crazy, all the emotions. I feel like they hated us.”
For the second time in three games, USC broke out a new helmet. This one was a throwback — the garnet dome the Gamecocks wore from 1983-1998. It was another motivational tactic employed by Elliott, who’s tweaked uniforms several times to try and energize his players. Saturday’s headgear was part of an all-garnet ensemble.
“I’m always looking for something to make somebody spark,” he said. “A smile, or something. You never know what it’s going to take to get somebody ready to go, and a helmet doesn’t do that. But I thought the all-garnet look was a very classy look, and a very bold look, and I wanted it to be against Clemson.”
Two weeks ago against Florida, USC debuted alternate helmets featuring garnet tail feathers on a white background. It marked the first time since 1974 that South Carolina had diverted from the longstanding logo of the gamecock in the block C.
Deshaun Watson certainly didn’t hurt his Heisman Trophy chances Saturday, when he accounted for 393 yards of total offense against USC. Still, the sophomore quarterback seems unfazed by all the talk of perhaps becoming Clemson’s first Heisman winner.
The Tigers have never had a player even attend the ceremony. “That’s up to the voters, that’s their decision,” Watson said. “I’m just here for the ride. If I get invited then I’m going to be excited, but right now I’m not worried about it. It is what it is. I’m just focused on being 13-0 next week and pushing forward with this team.”
— South Carolina starting tailback Brandon Wilds left the game with a concussion, according to USC. Saturday marked the final game for the senior, who did not record a carry in the contest and finished his career with 1,836 rushing yards.
— Clemson won all five of its true road games this year, the first time it’s done so since 1995. After previous road wins by three (Louisville) and 58 (Miami), the Tigers also survived trips to N.C. State, Syracuse and South Carolina.
— After sitting out against The Citadel due to a recurrence of a shoulder injury, USC backup quarterback Lorenzo Nunez led the Gamecocks in rushing with 10 carries for 75 yards. It marked the most extensive action for the true freshman since the Oct. 3 contest at Missouri, which he left with a sprained throwing shoulder.
— The USC and Clemson bands performed a combined halftime show in honor of the victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston. The stadium fell quiet as the names of each of the nine victims was read aloud. It was part of a performance entitled “SC Strong,” which also remembered those affected by flooding earlier this year.