Bowl Outcomes Fuel USC-Clemson Rivalry


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON, SC -- There was symbolism somewhere in the line of cars that clogged I-95 from Jacksonville, though Georgia and into South Carolina late into the night on New Years Day.

South Carolina fans, with an hour and a half head start after watching the Gamecocks beat Ohio State, arrived in Jacksonville in time to find the Clemson fans that left late from the Gator Bowl.

Clemson fans, who by now can barely remember Clemson's last bowl win, had to watch the cars pass by full of Gamecocks, who have become an enigma.

South Carolina hasn't beaten Clemson its last four tries. South Carolina hasn't won two in a row over Clemson in three decades. South Carolina isn't a school Clemson should be that worried about - and most fans would say they're not. Lately, however, Clemson fans have spent plenty of time concerned with South Carolina. Most Clemson fans would say that it's petty South Carolina jealousy that is at the root of the things that happened this year between the two schools. There were NCAA investigators travelling to Gaffney, words flying back and forth about a meeting between Brad Scott and a South Carolina graduate assistant and a last-second game-winning field goal that most in garnet feel was aided by a Rod Gardner push-off.

It seemed fitting that the two schools crossed paths one more time headed into the off-season as both sets of fans headed back from Florida.

Clemson heads into its offseason coming off its fifth straight bowl loss. The Tigers lost to No. 5 Virginia Tech, 41-20. It was hard for Clemson's players to see the difference between the two schools.

"I didn't feel they were tea that could dominate us until we made mistakes," said Clemson linebacker Chad Carson.

However, the way Virginia Tech won shouldn't have been that surprising. Other than the botched snap and punt in the first quarter, most of the things Virginia Tech used to beat Clemson have been used before this season.

The Hokies outran Clemson's secondary at times, confused them other times. Clemson gave up three plays over 45 yards.

And Clemson's offense, when faced with another high-scoring offense, wasn't able to move the ball with the same consistency. Certainly, not well enough to cover its defense and special teams mistakes.

"Guys that can get out of trouble, make plays, those guys give you a chance to win," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.

The needs are obvious: depth in the secondary, speed at the skill positions. Most would say Clemson played well this season considering the depth at the skill positions. However, the slow start against Virginia Tech was something Clemson couldn't afford. The Tigers gained just five yards in their first three drives and didn't gain a first down until less than a minute remained in the first quarter. By then Virginia Tech led 14-0.

"It's a tough hole to get yourself in," said offensive guard Will Merritt. "We felt like we gave them a cheap one."

That's something Clemson can't afford. Especially with South Carolina on its bumper.

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