By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — When DeAndre Hopkins hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass with 1:22 left in the first quarter Saturday night, once again it appeared the Clemson offense was off and rolling.
At that point, No. 9 Clemson had 163 total yards. Death Valley, where Clemson had won 13 straight games was rocking. When the defense stepped up and forced No. 12 South Carolina to punt to start the second quarter, it appeared as of this was going to be Clemson’s night.
But, that’s where it all ended.
Clemson followed up its defense’s stop with a punt on its next series, and then punted again after another defensive stand. Both opportunities, which started near midfield, were wasted ones and eventually the Gamecocks made them pay in a 27-17 victory.
“We were limited on opportunities,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “We had to make sure some of our plays hit. We had to take those shots, but we had a few drops in there. We had our opportunities and we did not capitalize on them.”
Clemson (10-2) did not have many opportunities at all in the second half. Other than a 38-yard pass to Jaron Brown, which set up a Chandler Catanzaro field goal, the Tigers totaled just 53 yards in the final 30 minutes.
“We only ran 19 plays in the second half,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “It makes those opportunities that much more important. It’s crucial to take advantage of those opportunities that you do have.”
Trailing 20-17, Clemson got an opportunity to maybe turn the tide when Xavier Brewer picked a Dylan Thompson pass in the end zone with 13:23 to play. But on third-and-seven from the South Carolina 47, Boyd threw in ill-advised pass down the middle of the field, which was picked off by Brison Williams.
It was Boyd’s second thrown interception of the night, and more importantly, was the last opportunity the Tigers had to score.
“The fun is in the winning, and we just did not do what we needed to do tonight,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We dropped a lot of passes and threw interceptions. Third down conversions killed us.
“We just couldn’t get in an offensive rhythm.”
Swinney admitted a lot of Clemson’s struggles had to do with South Carolina’s defense. The Gamecocks held the Tigers to 328 total yards, including 91 in the second half.
After Clemson had back-to-back scoring drives to take a 14-7 lead with 1:22 left in the first quarter, it totaled just 165 yards the rest of the night and scored only three points.
The Gamecocks sacked Boyd six times, picked him off twice and hit him countless other times. Jadeveon Clowney, their talented defensive end, dominated the game by himself with 4.5 sacks – a Memorial Stadium record for a player on a visiting team.
“They disrupted our rhythm,” Swinney said. “We only got two plays in the third quarter and their 86 plays to our 59 were huge. You have to give them a lot of credit. Tonight was very disappointing.”