By Will Vandervort.
When Robert Smith and Vic Beasley stuffed South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson for no gain on a fourth-and-one play from the Clemson 30-yard line during Saturday’s 35-17 victory over the Gamecocks, Brent Venables went into celebration mode.
For the second straight possession the defensive coordinator watched his Clemson defense make a fourth-down stop on his side of the 50-yard line. On the previous drive, the Gamecocks drove to the Clemson two-yard line, but on four straight plays they failed to get into the end zone.
On first down, Thompson’s pass to Pharoh Cooper went incomplete when he had to throw low due to pressure and Korrin Wiggins in coverage. His second down pass to Damiere Byrd also fell incomplete and he was tackled for a short loss on third down at the three.
The Tigers (9-3) ended the threat when cornerback Garry Peters broke up the fourth-down pass to Shaq Roland in the end zone.
“That was probably my favorite play of the day,” Venables said.
That play came after linebacker Stephone Anthony was thrown out of the game for a questionable targeting call when he hit Thompson following a pass. Anthony was disqualified from the game and will have to sit out the first half of the bowl game.
But it not matter who was playing for Clemson the Tigers were not going to allow USC’s high-powered offense to get the upper hand.
“Our mentality is next man up,” Smith said. “Throughout the season we have had injuries all over the place. The offensive line has been going through it all year. I went down at Boston College and then T.J. (Green) came in and played well.
“That’s just our mentality – next man up! Go out there and have no excuses and do our very best.”
On the Gamecocks’ next possession, they took over the Clemson 39 following a 44-yard Bradley Pinion punt and 13-yard Cooper return. But once again, the defense stood tall and preserved its 18-point lead.
On first down, running back Mike Davis went around right end and was thrown for a two-yard loss by defensive end Corey Crawford. Thompson then found Jerell Adams on the right side for seven yards and on third-and-five, Nick Jones gained five yards from the Wildcat Formation.
That set up the fourth-and-one play from the 30 where Smith and Beasley stoned Thompson for no gain.
“That goes back to game prep and studying all week,” Smith said. “I took an extra hour last night. I actually said to myself, I would rather lose and extra hour of sleep just to study then a little bit. Coach Venables asked us to study the third downs.
“Soon as he called ‘Gold,’ Coach Venables and I have a pretty good relationship and I’m constantly asking him what he is thinking in these situations so as soon as he called ‘Gold’ I knew what he was thinking and sure enough it was the quarterback sneak and one of their tendencies showed. I’m proud that he put us position to do that.”
And that explains why Venables went into a celebration-frenzy on the sideline.
“I can talk about those guys forever,” Venables said. “It was a lot of fun to watch those guys go out and perform and have the kind of success that they deserve.”
Clemson held the Gamecocks 122 yards below their season average. USC’s 17 points were a season low as was their 63 rushing yards on 33 carries.
“We had great respect for what they do and how they have done it. They have had great success for a long time. They have turned players into terrific players on that side of the ball,” Venables said. “But we were also very confident going in. If we do X,Y and Z and play with the discipline that it takes and play with the physical and mental toughness and with the ‘do your job mentality’ and do it with great passion, we have a chance to play at a high level.
“And what I’m proud of is that they sustained it.”