CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Steve Spurrier has already led South Carolina to a landmark season — and there’s still so much left for the Gamecocks to accomplish.
Stephen Garcia threw for two touchdowns, Alshon Jeffery had his seventh 100-yard receiving game this year and South Carolina headed into the Southeastern Conference title game with a rousing 29-7 victory over rival Clemson on Saturday night.
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“We’ve done some firsts this year,” said Spurrier, in his sixth-year as South Carolina’s coach. “There’s another first out there we’re going to try to do next.”
The Gamecocks have finished with a flourish. They won at Florida for the first time to win the SEC East, scored the most points in Spurrier’s tenure against Troy, then won back-to-back games in the Palmetto State’s defining rivalry for the first time since 1968-70.
Spurrier won six SEC crowns at Florida from 1990-2001 and has longed to return to the Georgia Dome with the Gamecocks. He’ll get that chance next week against No. 2 Auburn.
“The mental attitude has really changed since Arkansas,” a 41-20 defeat three weeks ago, Spurrier said.
That showed at Death Valley.
Despite giving up a 45-yard touchdown pass to Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins, South Carolina recovered to hold the Tigers scoreless the game’s last 58 minutes.
Jeffery finished with five catches for 141 yards had a 37-yard score, Spencer Lanning had three field goals and Antonio Allen had the defense’s third score in the past two weeks with a 37-yard interception return.
“Man, this is a great win,” Jeffery said. “Something we can take off and just build from it.”
The Gamecocks (9-3) have only won nine games twice before in 117 seasons of football, going 10-2 in 1984 and 9-3 in 2001. And their passing game, led by Garcia and star wideout Jeffery, gave Auburn’s secondary something to worry for next week.
“We’re confident, but we’ve got to stay focused and learn from the last time we played,” Jeffery said.
That was back on Sept. 25 when South Carolina led 27-21 entering the fourth quarter at Auburn, yet fell 35-27 in what would become a season of Tigers comebacks.
Garcia was yanked in favor of backup Connor Shaw, who was intercepted twice when the driving the Gamecocks for a tying score.
Asked what he remembered about the benching, Garcia said “I kind of forgot about that right after the game.”
Clemson (6-6) was held to 155 yards through three quarters while the game was still in reach.
“To lose to USC is very unacceptable,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “Our future is bright, but it’s awful dark right now.”
A year ago, it was Clemson with bigger things down the road as it brought its ACC Atlantic title into the season-ending rivalry. The Tigers, though, fell in that contest 34-17.
Clemson fans filled sold-out Death Valley on Saturday, hoping the same might happen to the Gamecocks. Instead, Jeffery and South Carolina proved quickly they were focused on this game.
Trailing 7-3, the Gamecocks’ Brian Maddox pounced on a ball that got away from Clemson’s punter Dawson Zimmerman. Garcia threw a simple screen to fullback Patrick DiMarco on the next play to put the Gamecocks ahead for good.
Jeffery struck for catches of 39 and 37 yards, the last a beautiful post route for a touchdown. It was the first time in seven games Clemson’s defense had surrendered two TDs in a game.
South Carolina and Jeffery weren’t through. He added a 33-yard catch a series later that ended with Lanning’s second field goal.
Jeffery’s best reception may have been one out of bounds in the third quarter after he tipped up a long pass between two defenders and lunged for the catch that didn’t count.
Garcia was 14 of 30 for 227 yards.
Clemson, meanwhile, suffered through the offensive problems that have plagued it the past month.
The Tigers managed 39 yards of offense after Hopkins’ touchdown less than two minutes into the game.
Swinney even brought in injured Andre Ellington, the team’s leading rusher who’s been out since Oct. 30 with foot problems, for a spell. But he didn’t gain any ground, either.
It was a bad end for quarterback Kyle Parker, Clemson’s two-sport star who gave up $800,000 in additional money from the Colorado Rockies to play one last season for the Tigers.
Just a sophomore, he had a solo run down Death Valley’s hill on Senior Night because he previously announced he wouldn’t return.
But Parker got an earlier exit than expected after Antonio Allen returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Backup Tajh Boyd took over for Parker, who threw 20 touchdowns a year ago.
Parker was 7 of 17 for 117 yards. He didn’t stick around to answer questions, leaving some to wonder if he’d stick around the team at all with just a lower-tier bowl game ahead.
“I always want the best for Kyle,” Boyd said. “I wish he could have finished his last game here, but I think everything happens for a reason.”