By Gray Gardner.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The new year cannot come soon enough for Clemson fans who are ready to move forward after a dismal season in 2010.
The Tigers were hoping to finish the season on a good note with a win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Big East opponent South Florida. The Tigers made the game exciting with little time remaining in the fourth quarter. However, the Bulls proved to be too much for this Clemson team.
The Tigers’ first offensive possession was reminiscent of a season-long string of blunders and missed opportunities. After a promising march down field, the Tiger O sputtered near the red-zone, setting Chandler Catanzaro up for a 46-yard field goal. Catanzaro was off the mark on his kick. He would redeem himself, however, going 2 for 2 on his next attempts.
The Bulls scored the first touchdown of the day with 2:25 left in the first quarter. After being shut down on their previous two possessions, South Florida found success in the short-intermediate passing game. A late hit penalty by Clemson defensive back Xavier Brewer moved the Bulls 15 yards closer, setting quarterback BJ Daniels up for a 25-yard touchdown pass to Demetri Martin.
South Florida did not waste any time in building momentum. On Clemson’s ensuing drive, pressure in the backfield forced quarterback Kyle Parker to flee the pocket. He threw to a well-covered Bryce McNeal, resulting in an interception by Bull defensive back Quenton Washington. The Bulls began their drive with a short field, but settled for a field goal, taking the lead 10 – 3.
Clemson would not fare any better on their next possession, going three and out. The South Florida offense made use of their opportunity with a 9 play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Daniels to Dontavia Bogan.
The Tigers would end the first half by scoring 10 unanswered points. Clemson took their next offensive drive downfield 48 yards in 8 plays and tacked on 3 points with a 44-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro.
The Bulls fumbled on their ensuing possession, giving the ball back to the Clemson offense with only 1:20 left in the half. A near-busted play resulted in a big gain through the air from Parker to receiver Marquan Jones. The play set up Jamie Harper for a 1-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds remaining.
South Florida led at the half, 17 – 13.
The Bulls tacked on 7 more points to start the third quarter. South Florida was driving when a defensive pass interference call moved the ball inside the Clemson 15-yard line. The Bulls capitalized with a 13-yard touchdown run. The point after made the score 24 – 13 in favor of USF.
Tajh Boyd had little success in his first two possessions of the second half. The Tigers went three and out on Boyd’s first drive early in the third quarter. The fourth quarter started with Boyd throwing an interception to South Florida defender JaQuez Jenkins. Jenkin’s 48-yard return gave the Bulls possession at the 5-yard line and resulted in another score, extending South Florida’s lead to 18.
Clemson made for some excitement with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd found wide receiver Brandon Ford in the end-zone for a touchdown with 1:47 left in the fourth. The Tigers opted to go for two, but could not convert.
Clemson proceeded to kick and recover an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. A personal foul penalty against South Florida gave the Tigers the ball back inside the Bulls’ 50-yard line.
Boyd again led the Tiger offense downfield and found Ford again in the end-zone for another touchdown with only 43 seconds left in the game. Catanzaro added the extra point, making the score 31-26.
The Tigers tried another onsides kick and, again, recovered. However, fate would not fall in favor of the Tigers. A flag was thrown and upheld for touching the ball before it travelled the designated 10 yards.
South Florida took possession of the ball and kneeled to end the game.
With the loss, Clemson finishes the season 6-7 overall. It is the Tigers’ first losing season since 1998 and only the fourth since 1976.
Dabo Swinney is now 1-2 in bowl games and 19-15 overall as Clemson’s head coach.