Clemson University

Tigers crush Gamecocks

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller breaks off a big run in the second quarter Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.
Clemson running back C.J. Spiller breaks off a big run in the second quarter Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

CLEMSON -- Dabo did it, leading Clemson from college football's biggest embarrassment to a bowl game. Whether it's enough to give Clemson's interim coach the job full time is another matter.

"My job was to get them ready to play," Dabo Swinney said. "It's somebody else's job to determine if they want me to continue here or somebody else. Quite frankly, I'm at peace either way."

Although the Tigers players and fans might not be should Swinney not be retained after the team's 31-14 victory over rival South Carolina on Saturday.

Clemson, 3-4 a month ago, has won four of its final five and is now in line for the Champs Sports Bowl, whose representatives attended the game.

James Davis scored three touchdowns in his last Death Valley appearance and the Tigers (7-5) beat the Gamecocks for sixth time in seven seasons.

He and his fellow seniors got to stroll down Memorial Stadium's famed hill after each was introduced to the cheering crowd.

"To score three touchdowns, that's something you dream about," Davis said. "Just to come down the hill for the last time and share it with your family. It felt really good."

Swinney took over on Oct. 13 when Tommy Bowden walked away with the Tigers' expected ACC title season in shambles.

Almost from the start, Swinney made every right move. None, though, was bigger than letting Clemson's best playmakers make the plays. That showed against USC (7-5).

Davis powered his way to his 47th, 48th and 49th career touchdowns, one away from the school record.

C.J. Spiller had a dazzling 39-yard burst to set up Davis' first score.

In the second quarter, quarterback Cullen Harper was falling to his knees about to be sacked when he threw an on-target pass to Jacoby Ford for a 50-yard touchdown.

And don't forget Clemson's defense, which rattled passer Chris Smelley into four interceptions and outshone a USC unit that had led the Southeastern Conference much of the year.

When Smelley threw his fourth interception with 4:25 to go, all Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier could do was stare onto the field.

It was two years ago after USC's 31-28 victory here Spurrier said it was the kind of win he could build on. Instead, he fell to 1-3 against his state rivals.

Smelley's performance followed a pair of games where Spurrier shuttled him in along with freshman Stephen Garcia. But Garcia missed a few practices this week with a stomach bug, so Spurrier went with Smelley.

"I'm tired of changing quarterbacks. You'd think we'd know who our best is," Spurrier said. "Maybe right now, he's still up in the air."

There's no doubt about the favorite at Death Valley.

Clemson fans celebrated and chanted "Da-Bo!" and "Da-Bo Swin-ney!" as the clock wound down on the 10th victory over their rivals in the past 12 seasons.

Athletics director Terry Don Phillips has met with several potential candidates the previous few weeks like former Oakland coach Lane Kiffin, coordinators like Bud Foster of Virginia Tech and Brent Venables of Oklahoma.

Swinney says he and Phillips were scheduled to meet Sunday. On Monday, Swinney has a meeting set up with players.

Clemson may have made Phillips' decision a no-brainer. The Tigers have won three straight and four of five to reach the postseason, a feat that looked impossible when they stood 3-4 last month with only one victory over a BCS conference team.

"At the beginning of the season, you never thought you'd be in this situation," Davis said. "But it still feels good ... winning four out of five down the stretch with a change in coach. I think we definitely went through all we could go through."

For the Gamecocks, it was the second straight disappointing defeat following a 56-6 loss at Florida.

Like Clemson, USC awaits its bowl destination. The most likely choices are the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., or the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

It didn't start that way as USC's defense got going fast, Chris Culliver jarring the ball free from Spiller less than three minutes in.

That's when Smelley's problems began. He was picked off by Chris Chancellor, the first of Smelley's three first-half interceptions that all led to Tiger touchdowns.

Spiller's juking, 39-yard run took it to USC's 1 -- he got past three of the Gamecocks' best tacklers in linebacker Eric Norwood, safety Emanuel Cook and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn -- before Davis finished off the scoring drive.

A blocked punt, the third Clemson's had against USC the past two games, set up a 22-yard field goal by Mark Buchholz.

Chris Clemons intercepted Smelley early in the second quarter and Cullen Harper made the Gamecocks pay with his long touchdown pass to Ford -- a gimmick play called "Cock-a-doodle-doo."

Harper, on his knees, pumped his fists and Swinney leaped into the arms of former Gamecocks coach and current Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott for a bear hug.

It wasn't long before Smelley's next mistake and Clemson's next touchdown.

Safety Michael Hamlin stepped in front of Smelley's throw on the following drive as Spurrier stood with arms folded.

It took only three plays for the Tigers to capitalize, Davis rushing around the left side for a 20-yard TD.

USC closed things to 24-14 on touchdown receptions of 16 yards to Patrick DiMarco and 23-yards to Weslye Saunders.

Davis regained momentum for Clemson two series later with his 2-yard touchdown run.

South Carolina 0 7 7 0 -- 14

Clemson 10 14 7 0 -- 31