Here are the grades from Saturday's setback:
The one thing Clemson couldn't do in this game and expect to win was turn the ball over and that's exactly what happened time and time again. Jamie Harper's first-quarter fumble, with the Tigers ahead 7-0 at South Carolina's 24-yard line, proved to be the play that erased momentum for Clemson and gave it squarely to the garnet and black. All-American LB Eric Norwood scooped it up, ran it back to midfield and it was "game on" for the Gamecocks after that. Kyle Parker later threw an interception to Devonte Holloman that was ran all the way back inside of Clemson's 15 yard line, setting up another Gamecock score. Also, C.J. Spiller recorded just 18 yards on nine carries in addition to a fumble while suffering from a flu-like symptoms. Clemson couldn't get going offensively until the game was out of hand, but at least credit the offense for never giving up and putting 10 fourth-quarter points on the board. Michael Palmer caught eight passes for over 100 yards and Clemson's only offensive touchdown. That alone prevents the failing grade.
South Carolina's game plan was simple: run right at Clemson. And keep running. And keep running. And do it quickly. And it worked. The Tigers were kept off-balance up front by South Carolina's ground attack all game long as Stephen Garcia, Kenny Miles and even Brian Maddox took turns picking up chunks of yards at a time. In addition, Clemson's linebackers, while piling up gaudy numbers in terms of tackles, struggled in forcing the ball carrier backwards, allowing the Gamecocks to pick up even more yards throughout the game. By the time it was all said and done, South Carolina rushed for twice its normal average this season with over 220 yards. The Tigers were also caught off-guard by South Carolina's no-huddle attack. In short, it was the worst defensive performance of the year by the Tigers ... by far.
Kyle Parker completed 22-of-42 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but it wasn't nearly enough to topple South Carolina. (Getty Images)
C.J. Spiller's 88-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff led Clemson fans to believe this would once again be their day in this 107 year old rivalry. And even though that proved not to be the case, it was another brilliant moment in what has turned into an unbelievable career. Richard Jackson connected on his only field goal attempt, a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter, and made all of his extra points - which was encouraging. However, Clemson did have a partially blocked punt, gave up one decent return to Stephon Gilmore and had a personal foul penalty on a South Carolina punt which gave the Gamecocks a first down. All of that prevents the "A" grade.
It didn't appear the team was flat in pre-game warm-ups, nor after the game started for that matter - so that's not in play. The idea of the ACC Championship Game being played the following week against Georgia Tech certainly didn't help the overall focus for the Tigers but that didn't appear to be the main issue at hand either. No, this appeared to be a good old fashioned butt whipping and under those circumstances its hard to find anything good with the execution or the coaching in Saturday's game. Why can't Clemson stop the Wildcat formation? Why can't Clemson stop running quarterbacks? It's been an issue all season and it was really brought out in the spotlight Saturday against the Gamecocks.
Anytime you lose to your archrival it's a bitter pill to swallow and Saturday was no different. Clemson has dominated this rivalry in every way imaginable for the last 30 years, but you can't win them all and the Tigers certainly weren't the better team Saturday. Credit South Carolina for using the week off to its advantage, both in developing a sound scheme and also in overall team execution. It's an unusual feeling now because Clemson doesn't have a month to prepare for a nice bowl game after finishing the season with eight wins- it has to get ready for Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game next week. And guess what the Jackets like to do? Run. And guess who they like to run it? QB Josh Nesbitt. How Clemson can slow down Georgia Tech's rushing attack given how poorly the Tigers have stopped the run the last couple of weeks remains to be seen, but that's the complicated task in front of Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele this week.