Another South Carolina defeat leaves Clemson with empty feeling

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney walks toward South Carolina's Steve Spurrier to shake his hand after the 27-17 loss to South Carolina.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney walks toward South Carolina's Steve Spurrier to shake his hand after the 27-17 loss to South Carolina.

Dabo on USC winning 4 in a row

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— Late Saturday night, an odd feeling set in over the hallway just outside Clemson’s locker room where reporters talk with players and coordinators.

Save reporters speaking with their interview subjects as they trickled out of the locker room, silence ruled the moment.

It was an unfamiliar feeling. For 13 consecutive home games, dating back to November 2010, laughter, music and general raucousness emanated from behind the locker room door, the sign of a successful day on the gridiron.

On this night, quiet contemplation and disappointment dominated.

With good reason. Clemson coaches and players believed this would be the year they broke through and ended South Carolina’s three-game win streak in the programs’ bitter rivalry.

Instead, they were left to process a 27-17 defeat, giving South Carolina its longest rivalry winning streak since 1951-54.

Clemson is left with an unfamiliar and uneasy feeling – a second-class citizen inside its own state.

Since Dabo Swinney sealed his ascension to the full-time head coaching role with a 31-14 whipping of South Carolina in November 2008, the Gamecocks have dominated their upstate rivals.

They’ve outscored Clemson by a collective score of 124-54, with all four victories coming by double digits.

Saturday’s win was perhaps the most galling of all. The Gamecocks entered as a four-point underdog without their top running back (Marcus Lattimore), their starting quarterback (Connor Shaw) and, midway through the game, their No.2 tailback (Kenny Miles), eventually turning to freshman Mike Davis, the brother of former Clemson star tailback James Davis.

Yet, they controlled the pace with a slow-but-steady offense, running 86 plays and holding the ball for 39:58, including 23 of 30 minutes in the second half.

Clemson ran a season-low 59 plays and held the ball for only 20:02, including just 19 second-half plays.

An offense which entered in the top 10 nationally in total offense, points per game and passing offense was limited to a season-low 17 points after having scored at least 37 points in 10 consecutive games, an ACC record.

South Carolina won with SEC-worthy brawn, led by sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who piled up a Memorial Stadium-record 4.5 sacks.

For Clemson’s seniors – the first class in 58 years to finish their college careers without beating South Carolina- it was an ugly feeling.

“We’ve done a lot of positive things but in sports as well as life, it’s what have you done for me lately,” said senior center Dalton Freeman. “This is going to put a damper on my career and everyone else’s career. That’s one of those things everyone has to put behind them and use as motivation for the years to come. “

All of the positives of this season – another piece of an ACC Atlantic Division title, the second consecutive season with 10 victories and the first 10-win regular season since 1981 – were forgotten as fans and players processed their rival celebrating on their own field, waving a huge garnet-and-black flag.

Instead of another BCS bowl bid, the next month will feature words like “regroup” and “refocus,” likely on a Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup with another SEC team.

Disappointment and speculation – about recruiting and the future of offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the nation’s highest-paid assistant at $1.3 million annually – will likely dominate conversation.

A 10-2 season with losses to your biggest rivals – Florida State and South Carolina – feels empty.

So does the knowledge of fans, players and coaches that it’ll be another 365 days until they get another shot at South Carolina.

For now, the Palmetto State is property of the Gamecocks. And Clemson can’t say a thing about it.

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Comments » 8

richardcd writes:

"Clemson coaches and players believed this would be the year they broke through and ended South Carolina’s three-game win streak in the programs’ bitter rivalry." Also the media felt like Clemson would prevail. Obviously Clemson isn't as good as everyone thought. It's because the poor competition in the ACC made them look better than they really are. Let's hope that NC State and Boston College get better with their new coaches.

TigerNE writes:

The REAL question is how this team plays in the upcoming bowl, whichever it will be. If projections are true and it is LSU, things could look worse for Swinney. For that matter, any ranked SEC team could show how flawed this team is. I wouldn't be so negative if they hadn't been so paralyzed against SC.

lhaselden writes:

I was disappointed that our receivers had difficulty getting open... I thought the D played well except an inability to sustain a pass rush and containment on the QB.....

lakeman writes:

what do they expect?? play a cupcake schedule and lose to the only two teams who play defense...chad morris is overrated...

brookesdad729 writes:

We need to be in a real football conference period, where we're playing some good competition week in and week out. That's what makes you better. Sure we may take a beating in the beginning like SC but look at them now. Swofford is assuring that the ACC becomes a power basketball conference and he is not concerned about football at all, even though most revenue comes from that. It's seriously time to get out. I've been saying that for a few years now. Sure we may have a couple of years where we have decent teams but the ACC will not have the consistency of the SEC or Big 10 or the other major conferences. Heck, the Big East is even better than us this year and they're dissolving. That's pitiful man!

tigerdh writes:

Looks like we will play in the Chick-fil-A in the Ga. Dome against either LSU or Ga, if they loose to Alabama. We better get our act together in a hurry or this will be another West Virginia. I'm a loyal tiger supporter but if we don't play better than we did against Carolina we will be embarassed again. To Tigers.

BigBud52 writes:

It is easy to blame the coaches, the conference or the schedule but the fact is we got beat by a better team. Both of Clemson's losses this year were to better teams. So now everyone should know what they need to work on to get better.

Lynx26 writes:

We lost because and will continue to lose to them and any other team.... if they're more physical than we are - Point Blank Period.

We're way too finesse on offense and defense. Pretty play will get you victimized when it counts the most. We're not aggressive what so ever.

Too soft. So unless we play a finesse team or a physical group with very little athletes, we'll be fine. Unless its and athletic bunch like Oregon, WVU(last year bc they had defense), then its a different story.

Texas A&M and GA are the same team... Finesse and physical. Not in our best interest. Wit that being said... I love my Tigers and bleed Purple N Orange.

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