(Eds: With AP Photos.)By JEFFREY COLLINSAssociated Press
South Carolina’s domination of Clemson may not end any time soon. A quick look on the field before the Gamecocks’ 31-17 victory may be the reason why.
No. 8 South Carolina (10-2) honored just eight players on senior day – and three of them were juniors expected to leave early.
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So while Connor Shaw, who had a 17-0 record at home, and Jadeveon Clowney, who promised three wins over Clemson, are leaving, there are plenty of others coming back – like Southeastern Conference leading rusher Mike Davis and Saturday’s leading tackler Kaiwan Lewis.
”It’s pretty neat to go 10-2 with this team that was called the youngest team in America,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. ”These guys may have achieved the most for such a young bunch of guys that haven’t played all that much.
No. 13 Clemson (10-2) has had the upper hand in the rivalry for most of its 111 games. But South Carolina has won five in a row for the first time, joining other teams dominant over their rivals like Virginia Tech with 10 straight victories over Virginia and Georgia’s 12 wins in the last 13 over Georgia Tech.
”They’re a good team, but continue to not play very well when they play us for some reason,” Spurrier said.
The top reason is turnovers. The Gamecocks forced three fumbles and had three interceptions Saturday, and have a plus-12 turnover margin during the winning streak. South Carolina has scored 62 points off those turnovers in the past five games, while Clemson hasn’t scored a point.
”That isn’t Clemson football. It seems like every year some tragedy happens,” said Clemson junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who seems like a good bet to leave for the NFL without a win over his team’s biggest rival.
Since Spurrier started coaching the Gamecocks seven years ago, he has emphasized new things for a program that had a losing record in more than a century of football when he took over. Spurrier hasn’t achieved his biggest goal of winning the SEC title – he lost the 2010 championship game. In a strange twist, though, he has beaten the eventual SEC East champion the last three seasons but hasn’t made to Atlanta. His team, however, has embraced beating its biggest rival over and over.
”Tonight sealed the deal. I will not lose to Clemson,” Clowney said.
Before coach Dabo Swinney took over in 2008, Clemson’s biggest problem was losing to teams it should beat. Swinney has solved that problem, but now the Tigers can’t win the big games. Each of Clemson’s wins outside of Georgia this season was by at least 10 points and the Tigers scored an average of 45 points in those games. They lost in 2013 to South Carolina by 14 and Florida State by 37 and didn’t top 20 points in either game.
”You want to win them all. I don’t wish to lose any. Do I wish the two losses were different? Those are two big rival games for us,” Swinney said.
The Tigers will need to find a new quarterback as Boyd graduates. In a career in which he set more than 50 records for Clemson, his numbers against South Carolina are miserable. Boyd was sacked 19 times, threw five interceptions and just two touchdowns, ran 51 times for just 1 yard and completed 51of 98 passes.
”The bad part of this is we feel like we’re a better team. Ultimately, they came out and performed today. There’s nothing particular they did. We just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had,” Boyd said.
The Tigers also lose main running back Roderick McDowell is a senior, along with two starting offensive linemen and likely Watkins.
Clemson still leads the rivalry 65-42-4, but the Gamecocks are determined to keep shrinking the margin. South Carolina cornerback Victor Hampton, a junior who announced after the game he was leaving for the NFL draft, told his teammates they had duty to keep beating the Tigers.
”We’ve been achieving things that South Carolina has never done,” Hampton said. ”That’s what I keep telling the guys – don’t stop at five. Go for the sixth win and continue next year.”