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November 27, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: Clemson



NO. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA 34, NO. 18 CLEMSON 13

THE GOOD

WHAT A YEAR!: No Marcus Lattimore. No Stephen Garcia. No Kyle Nunn. No (fill-in-the-blank). Didn't matter. South Carolina still won 10 games for only the second time in its history and has a chance for an 11th. No, the Gamecocks did not get to play for an SEC championship, but they won games that in the past, they would have lost, on plays that were always so close in the past but were being made now. You give credit to the coach when the team wins and blame him when it loses, so to Steve Spurrier - absolutely phenomenal job. Somebody had to keep the Gamecocks together when all appeared lost, and Spurrier was able to do that. He moved ever close to Rex Enright's all-time record for most career wins (he should at least tie it next season) and kept adding notches to his belt. He now has the 10-win mark, and is tied with Paul Dietzel for second-most rivalry wins in school history (four). Spurrier may not ever pass Enright's rivalry record (eight wins) but he could have second place all to himself with another win next year, which would be a fourth straight, which would also tie USC's longest winning streak in the series. A job very well done. The corner has been turned, and is last year's news - there will be no backtracking.

THEY CALL IT THE STREAK: It was mentioned - deservedly - several dozen times ever since last year's 29-7 win over Clemson was in the books. The Gamecocks had not beaten Clemson in three straight years since the current color man on the radio team had quarterbacked those three wins over 40 years ago. Tommy Suggs now has some company with his record. And for long-suffering fans who never thought they'd see it happen, it has - in a dominant fashion. Straight whippings, every time.

DO NOT DEVIATE: Spurrier didn't pull away from it at all. After starting the game trying to gash Clemson with the speed run - Damiere Byrd around the edges - the Gamecocks settled in and began working their game. Namely, Brandon Wilds and Connor Shaw, then Kenny Miles. It was as elementary as Sherlock Holmes saying it - the Tigers couldn't stop it, so why quit doing it? The Gamecocks rushed for 210 yards as their offensive line constantly bulldozed Clemson's defensive front out of the way. Football 101 - the run sets up the pass, and Shaw forced the Tigers to at least respect the possibility by throwing long for Alshon Jeffery on the first series. Excellent game plan and as we've all seen this entire season, Spurrier isn't losing patience anymore to throw the ball when something else is working.

OUR HOUSE: Whether he did or didn't actually Tweet it, Tajh Boyd allegedly said that USC's defensive line - specifically Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney - were only average. USC took it personally. The Gamecocks' defensive front was constantly harassing Boyd, forcing him to throw the ball away or throw on the run, and never letting him set his feet and find his dangerous receivers. USC recorded five sacks, four by those particular three players, and held Clemson to a paltry 153 yards for the game. The defense didn't bend at all, constantly shoving the Tigers around and making life miserable for Boyd. Ingram, on replay, was shown mouthing the words "Average D-line" after one sack, and was also woofing a bit during some other tackles (afterward, he shouted, "We own them!") Clowney got his long-awaited sixth sack of the year, Taylor knocked Boyd around a few times and Ingram was always in his face. Boyd, who also Tweeted a smarmy comment about G.A. Mangus and Garcia before the season, found out the hard way - the Internet can come back to haunt you. That first Tweet, even way back in the preseason, was on the locker room bulletin board at USC an hour after it was posted.

MAKING UP: DeVonte Holloman let a pick glance right off his hands with several yards of real estate in front of him. The next time he got a chance, he made the most of it, smoothly stepping in front of a Boyd pass and racing deep into Clemson territory. Two picks in three years by Holloman against the Tigers, and boy, how bad does it have to hurt that he is a former Clemson commitment.

LADY LUCK: USC's had it all year, and Saturday was another example. Sammy Watkins dropped a sure touchdown pass, and Boyd also did, on a great play from DeAndre Hopkins where he threw a spiral while getting brought down. Luck favors the best prepared, and being more lucky than good isn't a bad thing.

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: The spiral arched toward the end zone and a diminutive receiver separated himself from the pack, gathering it in stride and racing under the goal post. I thought it was Ace Sanders at first, then I saw the No. 23 and thought, "Well, I'll be damned." Bruce Ellington got his first receiving touchdown of the season and gave himself something to think about during the offseason. As Spurrier said afterward, Ellington is turned loose now, and is expected to be in uniform for the Providence basketball game on Thursday, but after saying earlier this week that he was thinking about just playing one sport next year (he didn't clarify which one), Ellington may reconsider. Now, the speculation (read that word again) was that he would stick to basketball. I even said that in a post earlier this week, but also said that was my opinion at the time. It could change, I said, if he scored three touchdowns against Clemson. He only scored one, but he also led the team in receiving for the game. And don't think Spurrier didn't know that and designed that play so Ellington could go get it. Honestly, the way I look at it, Ellington isn't a pro in either sport - too small for hoops, and too small for football (there's only one Darren Sproles). It makes sense for him to stick to basketball, because he'll be the star there. But on football, he can make a play. Going to be an interesting offseason.

WOW-SHON: Another game, another incredible catch for Jeffery. This was by his fingertips just before he stepped out-of-bounds in the end zone. It's been frustrating as hell watching Jeffery have the kind of season he's had, with no pass protection basically removing him from the danger zone, but he never lost his ability. The Gamecocks are going to miss that one.

AMERICA! HAVE YOU HEARD?: How about Jay Wooten? It's been his misfortune that this season just hasn't had to have many field-goal attempts, and his kickoffs have been the most featured part of him - something that he's good at, but not great. On Saturday, he was great at both. His first field goal, from 47 yards, was drilled right down the middle for a 3-0 lead. He added a 37-yarder after Clemson had cut the deficit to 11 points. He kicked off seven times for an average of 61.1 yards with two touchbacks, after he'd only had four all season. Senior leadership was needed, and Wooten helped supply it.


BUSTER: As Spurrier said, "Buster makes a big play just about every game." Rory Anderson won the backup job in the preseason and continues to show why, weaving for a 55-yard catch-and-run (thanks to a devastating stiff-arm and step-out of another tackle, after I was already marking him down). Then he rolled to the end zone, did a jumping jack and caught a touchdown. Anderson has caught seven balls this year and three have gone for TDs. He'll probably be the No. 2 again next year behind Justice Cunningham, but USC has quickly figured out that if the passing game is stalling, the tight ends can catch a ball, too.

GUTS: Hats off to Shaw. All year he's had to hear about what he's not, instead of what he is (as if what he's not was having a great season). Now, this is his team. His confidence is there, he develops by the game and he has no hesitation about sacrificing himself to help the team. Shaw is unafraid to run and take a hit, although naturally he went to the baseball slide a few times when he was about to get mauled. He also threw the ball very well last night, his second straight strong game, and without an interception. The Gamecocks have themselves a quarterback, folks.

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD: There was Miles, being recognized for Senior Day despite having another year, knowing that he was unlikely to play against Clemson or next year for USC. But Wilds wasn't producing, and cost USC a couple of times with a missed block and lining up wrong to force a timeout, so Miles was told to grab his helmet and go on in. First time he touched the ball, he was facemasked and kept going, not stopping until he was 28 yards downfield. Two years ago, Miles gashed the Tigers for 114 yards at Williams-Brice Stadium, and this year, he did it for 71 and 26 more receiving. If Spurrier has any way possible to bring Miles back next year, he should do it even though it's unlikely Miles will get any touches. That game deserved that by itself.

There may not have been a nicer kid around this program than Kenny Miles.



THE BAD

LOOSE: You know there had to be one. The kick sailed to Andre Ellington in the corner of the end zone, he stepped out and began swivel-hipping his way upfield. He was brought down 55 yards later. Hey, it didn't cost the Gamecocks a whole heck of a lot. But it's just another example of how far USC's special teams had slipped over the years and what needs to be concentrated on in the offseason.

UGH: It wasn't Joey Scribner-Howard's fault. The snap was low, and he couldn't get it. Then he was absolutely crushed by the defender as the ball, which he tried to kick, was booted directly into somebody's leg. One of those "USC plays" that has seemingly defined the rivalry, one that would give Clemson its edge and put the Tigers back in the game. No lasting damage, but geeeeeez.

STRIPES: Kind of obvious now that referees across the land just aren't going to call holding. Ever. Taylor got choke-slammed and sat on when Boyd was frantically trying to get out of his own end zone, which would have been a safety. No whistle. The Tigers got a fair-catch interference call when Ellington fumbled and USC recovered, although Ellington ran into his own man. Wrong call. As above, didn't end up hurting, but man, is it painful to watch sometimes.




THE UGLY

NOT A DAMN THING: USC ends the regular season 10-2, with three straight wins over Clemson, and did it with really half the team it started with. So many injuries, so much other off-the-field drama, and the Gamecocks still found a way to win 10 games.

I keep thinking back to that Sports Illustrated cover in the preseason - "Best Gamecocks Team Ever." No argument here.

Man ... what a season!

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