Not ready for prime time

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Not since 1951 through 1954 have Clemson fans had to endure losing to arch-rival South Carolina for four consecutive years. Until Saturday night.

South Carolina stopped Clemson’s early momentum and put together enough offense under backup quarterback Dylan Thompson to defeat the Tigers 27-17 in Death Valley Saturday night, the fourth consecutive win in the series for the Gamecocks.

Thompson, the South Carolina native starting for starter Connor Shaw [out with a foot injury], completed 23-of-41 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns as the Gamecocks kept the ball for an amazing 39:58 of the contest.

The Gamecocks were also lethal on third down, with Thompson escaping pressure numerous times to help keep drives alive. Thompson also rushed 14 times for 38 yards as Clemson lost to a backup quarterback and third-string tailback.

South Carolina converted 11-of-21 third down opportunities.

The loss also ended Clemson’s 14-game home winning streak – the last loss was to South Carolina two years in a primetime matchup.

The Tigers were beaten in all three phases of the game – South Carolina’s kickoffs were deep and didn’t allow returns, the Gamecocks’ defense embarrassed Clemson’s offensive line, and Clemson’s receivers dropped catchable balls that could have kept drives alive.

“We couldn’t get the ball in third period," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "We just couldn’t stop them on third down. The third quarter was huge. We had too many penalties, too many turnovers and South Carolina did a great job of controlling the ball."

The teams traded possessions to begin the game, and a South Carolina punt pinned the Tigers at their own 15-yard line to start their second possession. The Tigers took 16 plays to drive those 85 yards – with Boyd converting three third downs with his legs – the last one a three-yard plunge into the end zone that gave Clemson a 7-0 lead.

A short kickoff and long return set up the Gamecocks with good field position, and it took them just six plays to capitalize when backup quarterback Dylan Thompson hit Bruce Ellington in the corner of the end zone with a 13-yard scoring toss to knot the score at 7-7.

It took the Tigers exactly two plays to answer – Clemson took over at its own 25 and pitched to Hot Rod McDowell on the first play, and he scampered 32 yards around the right end for a first down. The next play saw Boyd throw a beautiful strike to Nuk Hopkins, who caught the ball falling into the end zone to complete a 43-yard scoring play for a 14-7 lead.

Both teams stumbled around for much of the second quarter, but the Gamecocks got back on the board with a field goal that made it 14-10 Clemson with 2:40 remaining in the half.

The Gamecocks took the opening drive of the second half and drove straight down the field, with Thompson hitting Sanders on a 34-yard scoring pass, and the Gamecocks led 17-14, their first lead of the night.

The Tigers were forced into another three-and-out, and the Gamecocks again drove down the field, getting a 43-yard field goal that made it 20-14 with 6:56 remaining in the third quarter.

A quick drive ended with a 37-yard field goal by Chandler CatanzaroChandler Catanzaro
RS Jr. Punter / Kicker
#39 6-2, 195
Greenville, SC

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that made 20-17, and the Gamecocks drove down to the Clemson 39 yard line before facing a 4th-and-10. The Gamecocks elected to go for the first down instead of punting, and safety Rashard HallRashard Hall
Gr. Safety
#31 6-2, 210
St. Augustine, FL

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appeared to break up the pass. However, Hall was called for the penalty on the play, and the Gamecocks turned that new life into a chance at a field goal. Another pass interference call against the Tigers set up the Gamecocks inside the Tiger twenty, but senior Xavier BrewerXavier Brewer
Gr. Defensive Back
#9 5-11, 190
Jacksonville, FL

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intercepted Thompson in the endzone to stop the threat.

The Tigers moved to midfield, but Boyd felt the pressure on third down and tossed an interception right into the hands of a South Carolina defender, ending the drive. It didn’t take the Gamecocks long to drive into Clemson territory – Clemson’s defense was clearly running out of gas – and converted a short fourth down later in the drive that put the ball inside of Clemson’s twenty.

The Gamecocks and Thompson made Clemson play when Thompson hit Ellington with another scoring toss, capping South Carolina’s second drive of the half that went seven-plus minutes as Clemson’s defense couldn’t get off the field.

The Tigers had one final shot, but Hopkins dropped a third down pass that would have been a first down, and Swinney elected to punt with just under three minutes remaining. The Gamecocks were able to effectively run out the clock, sealing the win.

“We got off to a good start scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter, but they just started to control the ball after that," Swinney said. "Give them credit, they did a great job. Their ability to put pressure on Tajh (Boyd) was a key. Give credit to South Carolina.”

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