GRADES: Dismal end to the season

CLEMSON - CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott grades Clemson's loss to the Gamecocks.

Seriously, what happened here? The dynamic play calling and aggressive nature of Chad Morris disappeared. Sure, you have to credit South Carolina's pass rush, including Jadaveon Clowney, who lived up to his billing as the nation's top pass-rusher. At the same time, why keep calling quarterback draws? And didn't every fan in the stadium know Clemson would run on first down for most of the night? The Tigers also ran nothing close to their normal pace and appeared to be out of sync the entire evening. If that wasn't enough, Sammy Watkins and Nuk Hopkins went quarters without being heard from. And when Boyd was able to deliver the ball in their hands, they dropped it. Overall, Boyd completed just 11 of 24 passes for 183 yards - nearly all of which came in the first half. It was a dismal performance and a horrible ending to an otherwise sensational season.

South Carolina played without its top running back in Marcus Lattimore, its top quarterback in Connor Shaw and still couldn't be stopped. At times, Dylan Thompson looked more like former Florida star and Spurrier pupil Danny Wuerffel than Shaw's backup, passing for over 300 yards. The Tigers did manage four sacks and one interception, but it was far from enough. Thompson was lethal on the ground and through the air, writing his chapter in the book that is this rivalry with more than 350 yards of total offense. Clemson's defense improved this season, but wasn't able to make plays when it needed to in both of the Tigers' losses. One thing we also learned this year: the Tigers need considerable help in the secondary with this next recruiting cycle. And let's be honest here... in other areas as well.

Saturday night's game was a microcosm of the entire year for Clemson's special teams: Chandler Catanzaro was automatic, the punting game was average to below-average and the kickoffs left plenty to be desired. Also - why even kick the ball to Ace Sanders? Special teams didn't lose the game Saturday night, but they were far from special.

Simply put, it was the biggest game of the year and it felt as if Clemson played not-to-lose for the majority of the night. After the Tigers grabbed an early 14-7 lead, there wasn't much to feel good about. The offense sputtered and the defense gave up chunk-play after chunk-play. South Carolina siezed momentum with long drives, keeping Clemson's high-octane offense off the field. For all the talk of the importance of this game during the offseason, Saturday night's performance was about as poor as it possibly could have been.

Clemson entered Saturday night's game with BCS aspirations, a 13-game home winning streak and hopes of ending a three-game losing streak to its arch rival. It left as disappointed as humanly possible. Unfortunately, it's another 365 days to ponder, "What if?" There's no pretty way to spin it, Saturday's loss to the Gamecocks was as disappointing and gut-wrenching as any loss in the history of the rivalry. The 10 games won previously by this team won't be forgotten with just one loss- but this was THE most important game of the year and unfortunately this team played its worst game. Now Clemson heads to Atlanta for the Chick-Fil-A bowl as a reward for its 10-win regular season.

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