CLEMSON — On the final play, Jadeveon Clowney delivered the final insult.
With Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd scrambling for yardage, South Carolina’s star defensive end tacked on one more big blow, sacking Boyd as time expired in the Gamecocks’ 27-17 win.
It was an apt end to an ugly night for the Tigers’ offensive line.
Clowney piled up 4.5 sacks, headlining an uncontrollable Gamecock defensive attack.
“I don’t know how it feels losing to Clemson, I’m not going to know how it feels,” Clowney said. “Because we ain’t losing to them as long as I’m here.”
All this week, Clemson players and coaches reminded reporters that South Carolina’s defensive line was more than Clowney.
They were right, but Clowney was the clear star. Clemson’s line had consistently improved, holding ACC sack leaders Maryland and N.C. State to a combined zero sacks over the past two weeks.
They regressed Saturday night, as the Gamecocks’ nasty, talented line made its presence known early and often.
South Carolina racked up six sacks as a team.
“I’m really proud of our defense,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.
The biggest play of the half came from Aldrick Fordham. With Clemson driving in Gamecock territory late in the first half, Fordham broke away from left tackle Brandon Thomas and made a beeline for Boyd’s blind side.
Boyd felt the pressure and threw up a duck of a pass, which was easily intercepted by safety DeVonte Holloman at the USC 24.
Clowney –the sophomore defensive end who is a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy – all given to the nation’s top defensive player – was a factor. Lining up all over the line, he made himself a constant presence in the Tigers’ backfield.
He accounted for two of the Gamecocks’ three first-half sacks, and went to work again on the Tigers’ first drive of the second half.
He bulldozed past Thomas and ripped Boyd down for his third sack of the night and a 10-yard loss. It was his 11th sack of the season, setting South Carolina’s single-season record.
With Clemson driving early in the fourth quarter, Clowney made himself known again. He ripped past backup center Ryan Norton – in as senior center Dalton Freeman, the program’s all-time snaps leader, sat on the sidelines with an ice pack on his left knee.
The pressure got to Boyd, who threw an interception right into the arms of safety Brison Williams.
“It was kind of rushed decisions,” Boyd said. “Those plays definitely affected me. At the same time I thought I have to throw it away or do something.”
Clowney said it was easier to pressure Boyd than he thought.
“Yeah it pretty much was,” he said.
Boyd completed just 11 of 24 passes for 183 yards with a touchdown and the two interceptions.
“We were in a situation where we didn’t have much time and tried to force things. We pressed too much. We have to take it as a lesson,” he said. “We got out of our game plan. We had to try and dig ourselves out of holes. It was predictable because we were in third and long situations.”
Freeman praised the Gamecocks’ defensive pressure.
“They’ve got a great front. We weren’t able to get in a rhythm,” he said. “They had the ball 90 percent of the second half and it was hard to get going. They pinned their ears back and rushed the quarterback. Our offense is based in rhythm and we weren’t able to get into it.”