By Will Vandervort
COLUMBIA — Tajh Boyd thought his knee was already down when South Carolina defensive end Chaz Sutton reached in and poked the ball free after a three-yard gain to the USC 30 with 8:38 to play.
“I got down and got lifted back up and the ball kind of fell out,” the Clemson quarterback said. “It just happened. I was trying to make a little extra effort and just go down. I thought my knee hit. (The officials) did not say anything. It was what it was.”
What it led to was another South Carolina win over fourth ranked Clemson. The Tigers turned the ball over six times in Saturday’s 31-17 loss to No. 9 South Carolina, including four times in the fourth quarter. Boyd threw two interceptions on desperation drives by Clemson and wide receiver Adam Humphries fumbled after an eight-yard punt return.
The Gamecocks (10-2) scored on three of the six turnovers, good enough for 21 points, which were truly the difference and why they have now beat Clemson five straight years.
“We have never really played a complete and clean game against these guys,” Boyd said. “Again, credit goes to those guys. They did a great job capitalizing, but again, I think we hurt ourselves every time we play these guys.”
Boyd’s fumble opened the wound, Humphries fumble allowed the Gamecocks to finish Clemson off.
Humphries had been solid for the Tigers (10-2) all season in punt returns. He came into the game as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best. So when he ran up and caught Tyler Hull’s punt at his own 26 no one thought anything of it.
The junior cut up field and ran to the 31 where Kaiwan Lewis stripped him of the ball and Kwinton Smith recovered at the 34-yard line with 5:18 to play in the game.
“It gives them an extra possession right there and it is on our side of the field,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Again, that’s tough. It is another turnover. You lose a possession out of it and they get the ball on the short end of the field and that’ tough.”
South Carolina put the game away three plays later when Pharoh Cooper—who plays quarterback in the Gamecocks wildcat formation—jumped pass a ball to a wide open Brandon Wilds for a 26-yard touchdown for the game’s final score with 3:44 to go.
“Obviously, this is very disappointing,” Boyd said. “Turning the ball over six times and I don’t think a couple of those really mattered at that point, but it is pretty disappointing, obviously.”
What is also disappointing is how the Tigers drove the ball 88 yards on 15 plays to tie the game at 17-17 with 3:01 to play in the third quarter when running back Roderick McDowell dove into the end zone from four yards away.
It was a drive that appeared to give the Tigers all the momentum and when the defense forced Carolina into a fourth-and-one at its own 34, it seemed like the game was theirs for the taken.
But following a timeout, defensive tackle DeShawn Williams jumped off-sides and then USC went to work using quarterback Connor Shaw on draw plays of 12, 6, 2 and 10 yards.
“We had a chance to win the game, but we made critical mistakes,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
The Gamecocks also got a pass interference penalty on the crucial 11-play, 75-yard drive, and then a five-yard rush from Cooper and a four-yard pass to Damiere Byrd before running back Mike Davis plowed into the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning score from two yards out.
“We really fought hard, but we did not play smart,” Swinney said. “We had some critical penalties, but the story of the game was the turnovers. You can’t turn the ball over and beat good teams.”
The Tigers also turned the ball over two times in the first half. The first came on a trick play in which safety Brison Williams intercepted a Sammy Watkins’ wide-receiver pass in the end zone. Humphries, the intended target on the play, was open streaking down the sideline, but Watkins—throwing the ball from the USC 30—let the ball go too-high and Williams got under it for the easy pick.
Carolina answered with a 17-play drive that took eight minutes and 13 seconds off the clock. Shaw, who ran for 94 and threw for 152, hit the right pylon for the game’s first touchdown.
Boyd guided Clemson on a quick four-play, 75-yard drive after that, hitting Watkins for a 57-yard gain to the USC 13. But after he tied the game with an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:45 to play in the first quarter, another turnover turned the tide back in USC’s favor.
This time freshman Mike Williams ran into Humphries on Hull’s first punt of the night, causing the ball to bounce off of Humphries shoulder. Skai Moore recovered the ball at the Clemson 39 and five plays later the Gamecocks were in the end zone, again.
“This sucks, ultimately,” said Boyd, who finished his career 0-3 against the Gamecocks. “We have to make sure everyone’s spirits get lifted. We can’t dwell on it. Clemson will beat Carolina, again. It just depends on who is going to do it.”
And they have to wait 365 more days before they get a chance.