COLUMBIA — Entering its annual showdown with South Carolina, Clemson had yielded only 36 points off turnovers in 11 games this season.
On Saturday, the Tigers had allowed 12 points due to miscues in the first 15 minutes and six seconds.
It only got worse for Dabo Swinney’s men, who continued to be victimized by the Gamecocks in a historic 31-17 loss.
When it was all over the Tigers had six turnovers — the most in a single game since the Miami contest of 2010 — and USC had five consecutive victories in the series for the first time in the 111-year history of the rivalry.
“The defensive guys did a great job tonight,” USC coach Steve Spurrier said. “We got all those interceptions at the end.”
The winners took care of the ball from wire to wire, finishing with no turnovers and only 20 yards worth of penalties.
“I think that’s the fourth home game in a row we haven’t turned the ball over,” Spurrier said.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was, obviously, quite pleased with the play of his crew.
“It’s always big when you get turnovers and give more opportunities for your offense,” Ward said. “The guys played a lot more physical and just really did a great job.”
Clemson’s first turnover was of the 12 point variety — costing the Tigers six and resulting in six for the Gamecocks.
Tajh Boyd was moving his team down the field on the game’s opening possession and Clemson was poised to strike first.
But on a first-and-10 play from the Gamecock 30 the Tigers reached into their bag of tricks, with Sammy Watkins reversing roles and trying to throw a pass instead of catch one.
However, his aerial was intercepted in the end zone thanks to a terrific individual effort by strong safety Brison Williams, who leapt up in front of intended receiver Adam Humphries and plucked the ball away.
Eight yards and 17 plays later, USC was on the board with the contest’s first TD.
The Tigers’ next miscue also led to Carolina points when the Clemson defense made a stop and forced a punt.
But Humphries couldn’t field it cleanly and the ball popped loose.
Linebacker Skai Moore recovered at the Clemson 39 and once again the Gamecocks made the Tigers pay, using five snaps to hit paydirt for the second time.
The last miscue of the opening half didn’t keep Clemson from scoring — but it kept it from scoring a touchdown.
Swinney’s crew started at their 26 and marched all the way to the South Carolina 10 before Boyd was sacked (and flagged for intentional grounding).
The result was a 38-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal, leaving the Tigers down 17-10 at the half — and leaving too many points on the field.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of the night came with under a minute to go in the third quarter.
Carolina faced a fourth-and-1 one at its 34 but Clemson jumped offside to give the hosts a fresh set of downs.
Later in the same series the Tigers were penalized for pass interference, moving the chains and giving USC a fresh set of downs at the CU 33.
The Gamecocks continued to churn out yardage and resulted in a go-ahead touchdown that put Spurrier and company back on top, 24-17, with 11:47 left in regulation.
The next blow came 8:38 from the finish when Clemson had it second-and-9 at the South Carolina and Boyd had the ball stripped by defensive end Chaz Sutton at the 30.
Sutton covered the loose cargo and the Tiger offense walked off the field minus-3 in the turnover department.
“When we got that fumble,” USC defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said, “I knew it was in the bag.”
The game-sealer was set up at 5:18 of the fourth when Humphries fumbled on a punt return following a hit by linebacker Kaiwan Lewis.
Kwinton Smith recovered at the Tiger 34 and on the change of possession it took four plays for the Gamecocks to score the touchdown that salted the game away.
There were still two more turnovers to go, with Moore picking off Boyd at the Clemson 43 with 3:38 left and linebacker T.J. Holloman snagging one last pick with 1:53 remaining to add the final insult to injury.
“Jadeveon said maybe we should give the game ball to our freshman linebackers,” Spurrier said. “They did play a great game. The whole defense played great.”