Back To The Future: The Good, The Bad and the Noteworthy from South Carolina 27, Clemson 17

Dylan Thompson

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – We can learn from our past successes and past failures. It’s a fact of life.

In this rivalry, as it pertains to college football, South Carolina’s in the first group and Clemson’s in the latter.

As you know. Ryan Wood and I are in our first years covering our respective teams for the Post and Courier. At the time of South Carolina’s fourth consecutive victory in this heated rivalry, we were wrapping up our game stories in Tuscaloosa from the Iron Bowl, the last football game we would cover of Auburn’s before moving to the Palmetto State.

So, this is a good time to look back on last year’s game and pick out some important points. Not to tweak the Clemson fans or to give the Carolina fans more bragging rights. Not at all. These are merely assessments on how this coming Saturday’s game might unfold … because, after all, it is a new year.

Because this is a way to utilize what we’ve learned about the returning Tigers and Gamecocks and how they’ll fit in with Saturday’s game, which is why you won’t read a ton of elaboration on guys who are gone (Andre Ellington, Ace Sanders, etc.)

One way to differentiate players you should know: Clemson players will be listed with shortened positions and will be listed in bold. South Carolina players will be preceded by full positions and underlined.

(So: QB Tajh Boyd … defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.)

Here’s the game tape if you’d like to follow along.

And lastly, this is written straight-up and straightforward on both teams. No slant one way or the other. Of course, I am the Clemson writer and more familiar with that program, but when I watched film, I took equal notes of both teams.

I hope you enjoy. Believe me, I’m eagerly anticipating Saturday’s game as much as you are.

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NO. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA 27, NO. 11 CLEMSON 17

Nov. 24, 2012, ESPN ~ Memorial Stadium, Clemson

Darryl Slater’s take (South Carolina) | Travis Sawchik’s take (Clemson)

First quarter

USC quarterback Dylan Thompson found out about an hour before kickoff he was the guy; Connor Shaw was unavailable due to a foot injury. USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was also dealing with a myriad of ouchy body parts.

Clemson RB Andre Ellington ran a little Wildcat. Can’t honestly remember if Clemson has run a single Wildcat snap this season.

On the first Clowney sack, Clemson QB Tajh Boyd scrambled and got flushed out of the pocket before Clowney tracked him down. Not LT Brandon Thomas’ fault.

First Ace Sanders, then Bruce Ellington: both USC wide receivers produced long returns in the kicking and punting return games.

Clemson’s second drive of the game lasted 16 plays, resulting in Boyd’s rushing TD and a 7-0 lead. Interesting note: in the Tigers’ last seven halves this year (going back to Oct. 26 at Maryland), Clemson has scored 190 points, including 25 touchdowns, but has only one drive with more than 10 plays.

South Carolina’s rebuttal: sublime. A perfect back-shoulder throw by Thompson to Bruce Ellington, with CB Garry Peters playing tight coverage but Ellington making a better throw. (By the way, Peters played an unbelievable 92 snaps in that USC game. He’s played 45 snaps in Clemson’s last five games, and 37 of those were against The Citadel. He’s got that foot injury, and CBs Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson are the clear 1-2.)

Obviously, Andre Ellington was the workhorse back last year for Clemson; but RB Roderick McDowell had three carries for 47 yards, including a 32-yarder on which he flat beat Clowney in a footrace to the edge.

Clemson runs a double-playaction fake, Boyd fires to WR DeAndre Hopkins in double coverage, and Nuk comes down with it. A 43-yard TD toss. Clemson 14, South Carolina with 1:22 left in the first quarter. It was Hopkins’ last catch. It was Clemson’s last touchdown.

Second quarter

The speed of Sanders and Bruce Ellington were too much for Clemson’s 2012 secondary to handle. Obviously, Sanders, wide receiver Justin Cunningham and tailback Kenny Miles are out, but receiver Damiere Byrd, receiver Shaq Roland and tailback Mike Davis are in. And of course, Ellington is back. Bunch of burners.

Clemson completely bumbled clock management at the end of the half, especially considering the Gamecocks were getting the ball to start the second half. It started with the interception by spur DeVonte Holloman on the USC 24-yard-line; then even though Clemson forced a quick 3-and-out, and got the ball back on its own 28 with 54 seconds to go (needing about 30 yards or so to give K Spencer Benton a prayer … quite reasonable on OC Chad Morris’ watch), the Tigers didn’t operate nearly fast enough, failing to get across midfield when they had the chance.

Third quarter

Thompson quickly flips field with a 31-yarder to receiver Nick Jones. Great protection, great throw, great catch. This was the maturation of a big, strong prospect who seemed totally in tune with his playmakers, even though this has long been regarded as Shaw’s team with Thompson as the sidekick.

Terrific opening drive overall orchestrated by Thompson. Great poise and adjustments. 10 plays, 85 yards, 3:08 off the clock, and USC takes the lead it wouldn’t relinquish. On the ensuing touchdown by Sanders, it was simply terrible coverage and tackling by Clemson’s secondary, which, again, it can’t be overstated is vastly improved in 2013.

Then Clemson punts, and USC could have totally seized momentum, if not for a couple of offensive holds. Whoops.

Both Miles and Davis made 3rd-down plays to keep that Clemson offense stewing on the sidelines. Probably the most underrated subplot of this game: can the Tigers make stops on third downs? When opponents fail to convert 50 percent on thirds, Clemson is 21-0 since the start of last year. When opponents get 50 or more, Clemson is 0-3. Simple as that.

Fourth quarter

Don’t get mad, South Carolina fans. Those two pass interference calls against Clemson – one on CB Rashard Hall with 1:09 left in the third quarter, one on S Jonathan Meeks on the first play of the fourth quarter – were wrong. The Hall call was poor. The Meeks one was egregious. Abysmal. Irresponsible and unacceptable. As a football viewer, one is just glad that S Xavier Brewer picked off Thompson to end that drive, so ultimately it wasn’t a major impact on the game.

Great hit by safety D.J. Swearinger, knocking over Andre Ellington with his shoulder. And a well-deserved 15-yard penalty for taunting, too.

OK, let’s discuss 3rd-and-19. Clemson brings five rushers (all four DL, plus LB Jonathan Willard). Credit to the USC offensive line for hatting up all three rushers from Thompson’s right side of the line without any help. Davis, the lone tailback, just waltzes through a gaping hole on the left as a blocker, giving Thompson all kinds of daylight to draw through to the second level. Willard overcommitted, and Hall gets easily sealed off by Davis, and by then, the Clemson secondary reacts too late to keep Thompson – a patient, smart runner – from picking up 20 yards and the first down.

Didn’t talk enough about Clowney in this post, but he really did chase Boyd around all night long. Not much Boyd could have done; it’s about the Clemson offensive line being more fast and physical. On Clowney’s fourth (and game-sealing) sack of the evening, he simply beat Thomas to the edge and took down Boyd deep in the pocket.

Then Hopkins makes a critical drop, turning Clemson’s last gasp into silence. He was absent on this night.

At the time that Bruce Ellington caught the game-clinching touchdown: here’s the ball control breakdown in the second half: South Carolina ran 45 plays to Clemson’s 13. South Carolina gained 238 yards to Clemson’s 75. South Carolina held the ball for 20:43; Clemson held the ball for 5 minutes flat. Those numbers were probably dancing in the heads of Steve Spurrier and Chad Morris for a long time, for completely separate reasons. More like a dream for Spurrier and a nightmare for Morris.

THREE STARS

3) Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina. Ellington had one more catch and one more touchdown, but Sanders (6 catches, 119 yards, TD) was unstoppable. His ‘get off me’ grab and score was the reason he went in the fifth round in last spring’s draft and it probably wasn’t high enough.

2) Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina. How many guys do YOU know who could make his second career start at night in Death Valley and significantly outplay a front-line Heisman contender? 23 completions, 41 attempts, 310 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT.

1) Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Four-point-five sacks speak for themselves.

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GAME 12: Clemson at South Carolina, Nov. 30, 2013

Who: No. 6 Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 SEC)

When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) | Columbia, S.C.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: WQSC-AM 1340 in Charleston (Affiliates)

Line: South Carolina by -5

When last they met: South Carolina knocked off Clemson 27-17 in Death Valley on Nov. 24, 2012, the fourth straight year beating the Tigers. Quarterback Dylan Thompson started in place of the injured Connor Shaw, hitting Bruce Ellington with the game-sealing scoring pass with 4:17 to go capping a 13-play TD drive. Thompson was 23-for-41 for 310 yards and three scores, but Shaw figures to get the nod this time around. Tajh Boyd was 11-for-24 for 183 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions; star receiver DeAndre Hopkins had just one catch, a 43-yard score. Both teams went on to win their bowl games: Clemson over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and South Carolina over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.

All-time series: Clemson leads 65-41-4 (starting in 1896), with a 49-31-3 edge in Columbia. The Gamecocks have won four straight in the series, by an average margin of 17.5 points and no fewer than 10 points. Before the Gamecocks’ current winning streak, Clemson had won 6 of the previous 7, including three straight at Williams-Brice Stadium. If South Carolina prevails Saturday, it will have its first 5-game streak over Clemson in series history.

-AB

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