On a chilly Saturday night in Death Valley that no South Carolina fan will ever forget, the Gamecocks continued their remarkable two-year run by beating Clemson 27-17.
Even if USC fans don’t remember the score, they will remember how the game improved the Gamecocks to 10-2, on the heels of last year’s 11-2 record. They will remember that it was USC’s fourth straight win over Clemson – something that had happened just once before, and not since 1951-54. And they will remember that coach Steve Spurrier, in his eighth season, got to win No. 65, a USC record, passing Rex Enright, who needed 15 seasons to win 64 games.
Perhaps most of all, the Gamecocks will always remember that they won by 10 points on the home field of their 10-1, 12th-ranked rival, despite not having quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Marcus Lattimore, and getting not much from Lattimore’s replacements. Kenny Miles ran 16 times for 45 yards, Mike Davis 12 times for 43 yards, including 26 on one play.
Wherever USC ends up playing in a bowl game, 2012 can already be considered a success, even though USC failed to reach the Southeastern Conference championship game for the second consecutive season.
Consider that three of USC’s four losses over the past two seasons have come to very good teams on the road – Arkansas last season and LSU and Florida this year. LSU entered today ranked No. 8, Florida No. 6. Arkansas finished last season No. 5. USC’s only other loss during the past two seasons was at home last year to Auburn, which finished last season unranked. That was quarterback Stephen Garcia’s last start at USC. It seems like forever ago.
Other numbers that will stick out from Saturday night in Death Valley …
** 39:58 – That’s how long USC had the ball, compared to 20:02 for Clemson. In the second half, USC had the ball for 23:19, compared to 6:41 for Clemson. USC out-gained Clemson 256-91 in the second half and out-scored the Tigers 17-3 after trailing 14-10 at halftime. Clemson’s four second half drives were: three and out, field goal, interception after five plays, three and out. And then the Tigers got the ball back with 23 seconds left, when the game was basically over.
** 59 – That’s how many plays Clemson ran in the game. USC had 86. In the second half, USC had 51 plays, Clemson 19. USC keeping Clemson’s fast-paced offense off the field was also a key to USC’s win last season. USC out-possessed Clemson 37:17-22:43 in that game and had 73 plays, to Clemson’s 60.
** 80 – Combined receiving yards for Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (four catches for 37 yards) and DeAndre Hopkins (one catch for 43 yards). They are Clemson’s two most dangerous offensive threats, and USC took them out of the game. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had just 183 passing yards and was sacked six times, including 4½ for Jadeveon Clowney.
** 13 – And speaking of Clowney, he now has 13 sacks this season in his 11 games played. That’s three better than the previous school record. He’ll be rich in a couple years.
Here now, the highlights of what Spurrier had to say after the game …
** “We were very fortunate, again. It seems like when we play Clemson, they don’t play very well and we played well enough, I guess, to make a few more plays than they did. That’s one of the best offenses in the country, and we held them down pretty well to 17 points. Offensively, we sort of did what we needed to do, as far as playing sort of ugly and running for nothing and nothing and nothing and nothing. But we kept that clock churning away. We’d hit a ball or two here or there and get a good gracious penalty here or there. We had a lot of mistakes in the game, but fortunately, our defense was very good there the second half.”
** Dylan Thompson had strong numbers as Shaw’s replacement: 23 of 41 passing for 310 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, while being sacked four times.
“He played pretty well. He missed a few here and there. But he hit a bunch here and there, too. He was ready to play. He wanted to play. Connor’s not been able to practice all week. Really, he needed to rest that foot if he could. He should be ready for the bowl game. Connor should be the guy ready to go. We decided about Wednesday (that Thompson would start), when Connor couldn’t practice again. It was time to get Dylan another shot.
“For a guy who hadn’t played much, he had a pretty good game. He’s not afraid to play and he wanted to stay in there. Connor was actually able to play if we wanted to put him in there, but we thought Dylan was playing well enough to try to finish it off.
“Our defense was good enough that we didn’t have to play super on offense. But I guess we did scrape out 27 points, which is pretty good for us.”
** How did USC free Clowney for all those sacks?
“We stood him up, moved him around a little bit to hopefully get him one-on-one. You can’t block Jadeveon one-on-one. We’ve got him one more year and then we’re going to shake his hand and thank him for everything he’s done for South Carolina.”
** A big key to USC’s time of possession domination: The Gamecocks converted 11 of 21 third downs and their lone fourth down conversion attempt.
“Did we really?” Spurrier said, when informed of that stat. “We were hoping it would be that kind of game. I don’t know how many plays they had the second half, but it wasn’t many. I know we didn’t have a lot of yards for those 86 (plays in the game), but we did have clock. That’s what we hoped would happen. It sort of worked out the way we hoped.”
** Spurrier set up USC’s final touchdown, a six-yard pass from Thompson to Bruce Ellington with 4:17 left that put the Gamecocks up 27-17, with a quarterback draw call on third and 19 from the Clemson 26. It gained 20 yards, which surprised Spurrier.
“I was just hoping to get it down it in there somewhere and get a field goal out of it, but lo and behold, he makes 20,” he said.
** Spurrier’s reaction to win No. 65?
“That’s sort of neat that it came against our in-state rival. That makes it special. The ball’s worth keeping.”