Grading the keys to victory: Clemson
I. Come out Firing
For the fifth time in a row, South Carolina dug itself a hole and went down early. This time it was to the tune of 10-0 and 17-7 Clemson leads. Once again the Gamecocks came firing back and even took the lead in the fourth, but if USC is ever to have a program that can contend week in and week out with the big boys, this going down two scores early stuff will have to eventually stop. While some bad luck could be blamed for South Carolina's bad start against Florida two weeks ago, USC dug its own grave this time around. A Blake Mitchell interception on the first drive of the game in which Mitchell made one of his few bad decisions of the game, led to a Mark Bucholz 48-yard field goal. Not long later Nelson Faebar came free to block a Ryan Succop punt for what would be the first of two blocked punts on the night for the Clemson special teams. After La'Donte Harris' scoop and score, freshman kickoff returner Chris Culliver let momentum carry him from the field of play into the end zone putting South Carolina on its own 1-yard line down 10 just nine minutes into the ball game.
II. Keep Mitchell off the Ground
For the most part, the USC offensive line kept Mitchell's jersey clean as they didn't surrender a single sack on the night. The USC offensive line seems to have finally gelled somewhat, and while they are still not dominant up front, they at the very least gave Mitchell a chance to go through his progressions or get out of the pocket. The offensive line could be blamed for a Mitchell interception that fell straight in the hands of a Clemson defender as Mitchell was hit on the throw.
III. Limit the Big Plays
Clemson made big plays all night to the tune of two blocked punts, two interceptions, a huge forced fumble and an 18-yard pass to Aaron Kelly to set up the game-winning field goal. The biggest play of the night came when Buchholz, who had already missed two field goals, nailed the game-winner from 35 yards out.
Grade: D –
IV. Don't Turn the Ball Over
It's hard to blame Dion Lecorn for his fumble when the talented freshman was just simply trying to fight for extra yardage. I'll take that over a guy who doesn't fight for yardage any day. Mitchell's first interception hurt the team in that not only did it lead to a Clemson field goal, but once again started a game off on a negative note for the Gamecocks. It is almost unreal how similar the final five games of the season went, and anything to buck the trend of USC starting slowly would have been helpful for the Gamecocks' chances. Mitchell's second interception was hardly his fault, but did lie on the shoulders of the offensive line.
V. Physical Play from the Corners
Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper was able to complete 28 of 38 passes on a South Carolina secondary that had been decimated by injuries at the cornerback position. Two of the biggest completions on the night came when Kelly got matched up 1-on-1 with freshman Addison Williams and caught a 12 yarder on fourth and 4 then caught a 18 yarder just moments later. With all the talk of players not giving complete effort, it's hard to fault the play of Williams and Stoney Woodson as they left it all on the field and played their hearts out.
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