The Hardee’s Trophy is staying in Columbia for another year, thanks to South Carolina’s 31-17 victory over Clemson on Saturday night. This is the first time in history that USC has won five straight games between the two.
The Cocks got off to a good start, as Brison Williams intercepted a Tajh Boyd pass on the Tigers’ first drive. South Carolina then went 80 yards in eight minutes, taking a 7-0 lead after Connor Shaw ran into the end zone. Clemson answered with a TD of their own less than two minutes later though, tying things up.
The Gamecocks followed that with a dud of a possession, but the Tigers’ Adam Humphries bobbled the punt and fumbled. USC recovered and moved down the field, and Shaw found Shaq Roland for a touchdown, putting the guys in garnet back on top. Each team scored once more in the second quarter, both on field goals, which meant the Cocks led 17-10 going into the half. The second quarter also saw a monster sack by Jadeveon Clowney, his first since the Vandy game way back in September.
South Carolina got the ball to start the third quarter, but they couldn’t get much of anything going, and Clemson tied the game midway through the quarter. That seemed to suck the life out of the crowd at Williams-Brice, and it made everyone in the alumni bar I was at groan. Knotted at 17-17 heading into the fourth quarter, it seemed that the Gamecocks would need some sort of big play to regain some momentum. Fortunately, the offense started clicking again, and Mike Davis found the end zone to put USC back on top.
After that, the Tigers seemingly forgot how to play football. A fumble ended their next possession, and the Cocks tacked on another TD when Pharoh Cooper, who had lined up in the wildcat a few times, hit Brandon Wilds with a 26-yard touchdown pass, padding the home team’s lead and making it a little easier for everyone to breathe.
Before Clemson even had a chance to do anything on their next drive, Boyd was picked off by Skai Moore. Though South Carolina ended up having to punt, it didn’t matter, because Boyd tossed another interception, this time to T.J. Holloman, to end the game.
The victory was especially sweet for Shaw, Ronald Patrick, Jimmy Legree, Chaz Sutton, and David Wilkins, who were honored in the Senior Night ceremony before the game. Despite not being seniors, Clowney, Victor Hampton, and Kelcy Quarles also participated, because they’ll be leaving for the draft, so this was their final home game, too.
In his postgame presser, Steve Spurrier called Shaw “the difference maker” for the team, and said he was the best quarterback to ever play at USC, which Shaw said was high praise, especially coming from the HBC. Shaw finishes the regular season with an incredible ratio of 20 touchdown passes to one interception and a perfect record of 17-0 at home.
As for the teams as a whole, there is no Gamecocks player who knows what it’s like to lose to Clemson, and no Tigers player who knows what it’s like to beat South Carolina. This year’s senior class leaves as the winningest in school history, replacing last year’s group, with 41 (and a chance at 42) victories.
The Cocks tallied 21 first downs compared to Clemson’s 18, but the Tigers outgained USC 352-318 in total yardage. Clemson turned the ball over an astonishing six times, while the Gamecocks didn’t do so at all (their fourth straight home game without a turnover), and South Carolina had the ball for almost 40 minutes.
Shaw finished the night 14-of-26 for 152 yards and a TD, while Boyd went 19-of-27 for 225 yards and a pick. Shaw led the Cocks in rushing with 22 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown and Bruuuuuuuuuuce Ellington led them in receiving with four catches for 51 yards. Roderick McDowell had 111 yards and a TD on 14 carries and Sammy Watkins had 93 yards on seven receptions to lead the Tigers.
USC finishes the regular season 10-2 (6-2 in the SEC) for the third year in a row. Missouri beat Texas A&M, so the Cocks will not play for the conference title (this is also the third year in a row that they have beat the SEC East champion), but will await a bowl bid. This is particularly impressive given that South Carolina was the youngest team in the country, with just five seniors this season. Clemson also finishes 10-2 and will await a bowl bid.