South Carolina has found a quarterback who can make it run.
But it was the defense that kept Clemson from doing the same that triggered a Saturday night celebration for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina powered its way on both sides of the ball to a 34-13 win against its in-state rival, its third straight and the fourth in the past six meetings. It's the first three-game win streak for USC in the series since 1968-70, though the Tigers still lead the all-time series 65-40-4.
"It's been neat to beat Clemson, because they've kind of owned us in the past," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. "They don't own us right now, that's for sure."
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Sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another among his 106 yards on the ground, but South Carolina held Clemson to 153 yards to destroy all the early-season momentum the Tigers had built. Clemson's previous low of 323 yards came in a win against Virginia Tech, but the Tigers matched their season low of 13 points from their embarrassing loss at N.C. State a week earlier.
For Shaw, it was a sweet ending to a season that saw him yanked from his start in the opener against East Carolina, only to have the ball handed back to him following the final Stephen Garcia implosion after the Auburn loss. Shaw finished the night 14-of-20 passing for 210 yards and three scores.
South Carolina (10-2) is awaiting bowl decisions now, having missed its shot at a return trip to the SEC title game despite sweeping the Eastern Division. That doesn't take the shine off another successful season - the second in school history with 10 wins and the first time it has had nine or more in back-to-back years.
The Tigers now limp into next weekend's ACC title game in Charlotte for a rematch with Virginia Tech, having lost three of four after winning their first eight. And they don't have to look farther than their offensive breakdowns for the slump. After averaging 40.6 points per game over their first eight games, they fell to earth averaging 18.5 over their past four.
It wasn't as if they didn't have chances either, as freshman sensation Sammy Watkins dropped a potential long touchdown early, and late chances were squandered under the pressure of a defensive front that played one of its best games of the season. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was sacked five times and pressed into an ugly 11-of-29 passing night, with just 83 yards and an interception to balance his one touchdown.
The Gamecocks were perfectly content to let Shaw keep the ball in his hands early. His first downfield pass to receiver Alshon Jeffery was broken up in the end zone, but a 19-yard scramble and some smart check-downs were enough to move them into position for an early lead. After Shaw took a third-down sack, however, Jay Wooten gave the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead with his 47-yard field goal with 10 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
After a quick three-and-out sparked by South Pointe pressure - Stephon Gilmore's first down blitz hurried Boyd and announced their intentions, then DeVonte Holloman dropped an easy interception which would have been returned for a touchdown - Shaw began to look more comfortable in the other half of the game.
His 49-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington was the longest of his career at that point, and pushed the Gamecocks to a 10-0 lead with 6:36 left in the first.
Of course, Shaw mixed in a 34-yard scramble (gaining an extra 15 by cutting inside rather than taking the easy dive), helping the Gamecocks control the early stages. They held the ball for 11:20 in the first quarter alone, as Shaw's 71 rushing yards in the first 15 minutes helped them keep the Tigers' fast-break offense off the field.
Clemson finally woke up in the second, helped in part by an unusual fair catch interference penalty on the Gamecocks (in which a Tigers blocker backed into his own returner, causing a bobble). Boyd capped the 12-play drive by finding tight end Dwayne Allen for a 9-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7 with 12:32 left in the half.
The special teams adventures continued for the Gamecocks, as a low snap led to a block of Joey Scribner-Howard's punt, giving the Tigers the ball at the Gamecocks' 26. They only got a 32-yard field goal out of the exchange, with Chandler Catanzaro tying the score with 6:14 left in the half.
But Shaw wasn't nearly finished running, and helped the Gamecocks get that lead back before the half. After they converted a fourth down on a quick run up the middle by Kenny Miles, Shaw finished with a zig-zagging 15-yard run for the score, making it 17-10 with 1:55 left in the half. Jeffery caught his first pass of the game on that drive, and largely was a nonfactor early. He spent part of the first quarter getting his left hand examined but was made moot by a Clemson defense determined not to let him behind them.
The Gamecocks began to pull away in the third, with Shaw finding another big-play threat.
After Shaw's short dump-off to Rory Anderson, the freshman tight end turned it into a 55-yard strike, stiff-arming Clemson defenders for the final 10. To thank him for the work, Shaw found him three plays later for a 2-yard touchdown pass which pushed the score to 24-10 with 9:52 left in the third.
Even when Clemson had opportunities late, the South Carolina defense held them in check. Even when a short punt gave them the ball at the Gamecocks 36 early in the fourth, all they could manage was a 40-yard field goal by Catanzaro which made it 24-13 with 13:48 left in the game. As Boyd was looking downfield, a Melvin Ingram sack on third down stifled their best chance.
When South Carolina answered with a 14-play drive that took up 50 yards - and more importantly, 7:22 worth of clock - it didn't matter that it had to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Wooten. By that time, there wouldn't have been enough time for Clemson even when its offense was clicking.
And it definitely wasn't Saturday, with Holloman picking off Boyd with 6:01 left, wiping out any hope of late drama. Shaw didn't wait long to make them pay, finally finding Jeffery for an 18-yard touchdown pass after looking his way so often earlier.
SC--FG Wooten 47, 10:23. SC--Ellington 49 pass from C.Shaw (Wooten kick), 6:36.
Clem--Allen 9 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 11:32. Clem--FG Catanzaro 32, 6:14. SC--C.Shaw 15 run (Wooten kick), 1:55.
SC--Anderson 2 pass from C.Shaw (Wooten kick), 9:52.
Clem--FG Catanzaro 40, 13:48. SC--FG Wooten 37, 6:26. SC--A.Jeffery 18 pass from C.Shaw (Wooten kick), 5:20.
Att.--83,422 (at SouthCarolina).
Time of Possession
RUSHING--Clemson, Ellington 13-66, Bellamy 3-19, Watkins 2-9, Howard 1-(minus 1), Boyd 11-(minus 23). South Carolina, C.Shaw 19-107, Miles 21-71, Wilds 7-24, Byrd 3-19, Team 3-(minus 11).
PASSING--Clemson, Boyd 11-29-1-83, Hopkins 0-1-0-0. South Carolina, C.Shaw 14-20-0-210.
RECEIVING--Clemson, Watkins 4-39, Hopkins 3-24, Ellington 2-5, Allen 1-9, Ja.Brown 1-6. South Carolina, Ellington 3-71, Miles 3-26, Anderson 2-57, A.Jeffery 2-29, Cunningham 1-16, A.Sanders 1-7, D..Moore 1-4, Wilds 1-0.