“Enjoy it. This won’t happen anymore now that Steve Spurrier is coming to town.”
Those were the words spoken by a very unhappy Carolina fan as he was leaving the stadium on Saturday afternoon. Wonder if he even realized that was just another way of spouting off the saying Clemson fans have grown to love – wait ‘til next year?
Clemson thoroughly trounced the Gamecocks for the second year in a row. In many ways it was a more dominating defeat than last year’s 63-17 outcome. The score may not have indicated as much, but there is no doubt who the best team in the state is once again.
The irony of it all is the South Carolina fans can talk about nothing other than how things will take a drastic change under the direction of Spurrier. If you substitute Holtz’s name for Spurrier’s, you hear almost verbatim the same statements they were making nearly six years ago.
All that came of that talk was a 1-5 record against Bowden and a miserable performance in the month of November the last three years.
I think it makes Tommy Bowden look like a genius. He managed to dominate a far superior coaching staff and numerous nationally ranked recruiting classes that were going to put the Gamecocks on the national map.
That is, of course, if you believed even a smattering of what those in Columbia have said for the last few years.
There is a lot to be said about the pregame altercation and fight that marred the contest. That is something that deserves an article of its own and will be discussed at a later date.
For now, a summary of the game is the most important topic at hand.
Rick Minter showed his ignorance of the rivalry earlier this year when he stated Clemson is a “hellhole.” Had he done any research, he would have known better than to make such a bold statement. After all, no one should talk about their daddy in such a manner.
Fittingly enough, Death Valley had to seem like a hellhole for him on Saturday afternoon. His defense looked helpless much of the game, as they were helped more by Clemson mistakes rather than their own play.
I do not have access to practices or coaches’ meetings, so I cannot honestly say what happened on Saturday.
Did the coaches spot something few had noticed coming into the game or did the Clemson players just want it more?
Could it have been a combination of both?
Whatever the reason, the Clemson offense did something few imagined they could accomplish coming into the game. They controlled the line of scrimmage and went old school by running the ball with ease.
Reggie Merriweather has spent much of his career in the shadows cast by other backs. That has served as a form of motivation as he has gone from being a relatively unknown third-team player to a star in the making over the course of the last month or so.
When you consider he was not highly sought after coming out of high school because he was too little, he made a mockery of the recruiting rankings bestowed upon the Carolina defenders over the last few years with his performance.
The line provided a lot of support on Saturday, but he also created a lot of his yardage by running through tackles and moving piles. As much as his efforts provided a boost for the offense, it was just as disheartening for the Gamecock defense.
He ran through tackles and moved piles all day long on his way to 125 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was more productive in one game against his archrival than his nemesis Demitrus Summers has been in two.
Clemson’s much maligned offensive line recovered from their worst performance in recent memory to have one of their better games in quite some time. They consistently overwhelmed Carolina’s front seven in the running game.
The tackles practically shut down the duo of George Gause and Moe Thompson, something very few teams have been able to do over the course of an entire game. The most telling sign of their dominance was how they never lost a beat when substitutions were made.
Their protection in the passing game could have been better, but Whitehurst had ample time to throw on many occasions.
Chansi Stuckey finally resurfaced after battling an onslaught of injuries that have kept him from being a factor since the Wake Forest game. His seven catches for 75 yards were a team best, three of which came on big plays in third down situations.
Not to be overlooked is Duane Coleman’s performance. His 43 yards rushing kept the ground game going when Merriweather was out. More importantly, he had three catches for 34 yards out of the backfield.
Charlie Whitehurst’s 15-for-28 performance was by no means anything like his game last year, but his numbers once again did not tell the entire story. At least three of his passes were dropped and a few more were wisely thrown away.
The Tigers did have to settle for three field goals when they should have delivered knockout punches. It is never a good thing to see three three-pointers from such short distances because it is a sign of stalled drives.
Even so, the offense did more than enough to get the job done. All things considered, it was a good performance.
There are all kinds of stats out there concerning field position that one can use to explain the problems suffered by the South Carolina offense.
There are also a lot of stats out there that can be used to argue why certain things we all know not to be true may be plausible.
The fact of the matter is that the Clemson defense treated the Gamecocks like a dog tied to a tree. Just as they thought they were getting up to full speed and were going to be freed, the chain suddenly tightened and jerked them back to reality.
Running only 4 of 55 plays from your opponent’s side of the field is virtually unheard of on any level of football. Bad field position or not, a scout team should be able to do better than that.
After the Tigers marched down the field to make it a 20-7 game to start the second half, the defense needed to respond with a big effort to put the game away.
They did more than just stop the Gamecocks. They held them to (-8) yards in the third quarter on their way to extinguishing any flames of hope Lou Holtz may have had.
The decision to move Ron West to the defensive line looked like a bad one early in the season when the front was not playing well. Many thought it was a fool-hearted attempt by Bowden to appease those screaming for staff changes.
In reality, it appears to have been a very wise decision that did not pay off initially because of youth in that area.
The defensive line has improved tremendously over the course of the season, and never was that more apparent than on Saturday. They held their opponent to 66 yards on 28 carries and picked up their fourth interception of the season on a great play by Gaines Adams and Cory Groover.
As has been the case most of the season, there was no drop off in the level of play when substitutions were made. Bobby Williamson, Cory Groover, Gaines Adams, Donnell Clark, and Chris McDuffie have been invaluable as replacements for the starters.
Tramaine Billie has quietly been successful the last half of the season as he took over for an injured Eric Sampson. He has played lights out during that time and continued to excel against the guys from his hometown of Columbia.
His display on Saturday had to be especially sweet because of the taunts he received from Gamecock fans coming out of high school. The one-time South Carolina commitment was told he was scared of competition from Demitrus Summers and would never see the field at Clemson.
He saw more of the field than they would have liked on his way to a handful of tackles and a sack.
The secondary gave up one big play all day on a spectacular scramble by Syvelle Newton and catch by Cory Boyd. Other than that, they played extremely well.
Troy Williamson’s big play potential was kept in check the entire game as Tye Hill had three more pass break ups to set a Clemson single season record with 20.
South Carolina did not cross their 30-yard line the entire first quarter and 9 of their 12 drives were 4 plays or less.
Considering they have a legendary coach, one of the best receivers in the country, a running back that was at the top of the heap coming out of high school, a quarterback that many considered to be the same, and some outstanding offensive line recruits, one can only surmise that the Clemson defense must be one helluva bunch of overachieving athletes with an undeniable will to succeed.
I have said time and again that one of the best plays in football is a touchback. Forcing a team to go 80 yards for a score is a position any defensive coach would like. That is why I did not understand why Jad Dean kicked it short on the opening kickoff.
It took all of about four seconds for David Dunham to change my mind…at least for a few brief moments.
His forced fumble and Steven Jackson’s recovery set the tone of the game and Clemson never looked back. He continued that performance the rest of the day by making every tackle on kickoffs.
The return game never got a chance to get going because of touchbacks and poor punts. It also did not help that Gaines Adams blocked Clemson’s fourth punt of the season. Clemson could not capitalize on it as Josh Brown eventually recovered and rushed for a first down.
Jad Dean was perfect on all three field goal attempts, but did miss one extra point. It did not hurt his team but it is a mistake that has to be corrected.
Cole Chason had a great day punting the ball and his coverage unit had an even better performance. Sergio Gillam and Geoff Rigsby combined to make a big stop on one return, and Yusef Kelly made a great catch to down a punt at the goal line.
Coming into the game I thought the special teams might be the difference maker. My prediction was wrong, but they did make a very valuable contribution.
The fight may have been the best thing to happen for South Carolina because it has been the focus of everyone’s attention. As a result, many have lost sight of the fact that they were totally helpless in every facet of the game.
The South Carolina fans dug their own grave in regards to explaining this one because they have talked for years about their athletic superiority based on recruiting rankings and the abilities of Lou Holtz.
It is true that he has led them to bowl eligibility in three of his six seasons and two of their best years in the program’s history. What does that say about the job he has done?
It is not my place to say. I would like to point out that receiving a bowl bid three times – he would have gotten one this year – is not as big of a deal in this day and age of bowl games, sponsored by virtually bankrupt companies, in places no one would like to visit.
North Texas played in a bowl game a few years ago with a losing record.
He has put South Carolina on the map, but it was more for who he is than what his program stood for. Never has that been more evident than on a wall underneath Williams-Brice stadium. There visitors can find the names of players Holtz have coached that have gone on to become All-American’s and/or NFL stars.
It is more of a testament to what he did at Notre Dame than in Columbia. Talk about riding someone else’s coattails…
What lies ahead is anyone’s guess. No one knows for sure what Holtz is leaving in terms of talent and what Spurrier can do with those players.
What is set in stone is Tommy Bowden’s success against his rival during the Holtz years. One win in five tries is not nearly as embarrassing for Holtz as his team’s performance against Clemson using his own players.
He may have put Columbia on the map, but Rand McNally should use an orange tiger paw to designate it in their future publications.