"New Carolina" Dominates Clemson in 34-17 Win

Prior to Saturday's game, there were some wearing orange who claimed not to get what was different about the "New Carolina." The 34-17 domination of the Clemson Tigers by the Gamecocks Saturday should suffice as a lesson that the paradigm has changed. Good enough to win seven straight and play for the ACC title next week, the Tigers were clearly not the better team on this Saturday.

The South Carolina Gamecocks exorcised years of frustration with a 34-17 win over their in-state rival Clemson. The high point of the game for the Tigers came 19 seconds into the game when CJ Spiller took advantage a second chance on the opening kickoff to the end zone. The Tiger offense didn't score their first points until a Richard Jackson field goal put three points on the board with 11:23 in the game.

Coach Steve Spurrier was pleased with the team effort in his team's win, saying "I'm proud of our guys. We have good spirit on this team and outstanding senior leadership with Eric Norwood and Moe Brown, two senior captains. It was a wonderful win."

The Gamecock offensive plan was simple – run the ball. And run they did, for 223 yards and a 13 minute edge of possession. It was the second most yards the Tigers had given up rushing all year, second only to a Georgia Tech team they have to face again next week.

Earlier this week a newspaper columnist said that Carolina couldn't win without running the ball against Clemson. At the conclusion of his post-game press conference, Steve Spurrier walked over to the reporter and pulled the column out of his back pocket. He told him he had it in his pocket the whole game, and then handed the column back to its author.

The head ball coach said of his rushing attack, "We ran the ball and that's obviously what we needed to do to win. A lot of people advised us to do that and we took heed to that." Kenny Miles was USC's leading rusher with 114 yards on 17 attempts, averaging 6.7 yards a carry. He said, "It felt good that Coach (Spurrier) definitely established throughout the week that we needed to go in rushing the ball, and we were able to run the ball all four quarters. It was great."

Dabo Swinney took the first win in the matchup with his venerable counterpart last season, but USC used its two week preparation time before this game well, using quarterback draws and slants effectively against the #12 defense in the country. Swinney acknowledged the Gamecock rushing success as the key to the game, saying, "When you go on the road and turn the ball over and then you can't stop the run, it's hard to win. The bottom line was we couldn't stop the run."

Swinney referenced the other key to the game, which were turnovers. Carolina intercepted the ball once and recovered two Clemson fumbles, turning them into 14 points. Swinney said of the turnovers, "We had the opportunity to get a fast start and create a lot of momentum for our football team with a lot of points early and we just turned it over. It's extremely disappointing. When you're negative in the turnover margin, it's hard to win. You have to give them a lot of credit because they capitalized on those opportunities."

The Gamecocks had started each of Spurrier's five seasons strongly, but had struggled to finish the seasons on a winning note; 2009 was following that pattern. After a 6-1 start, Carolina had stumbled to four straight losses and a 6-5 record, albeit to the nation's #1 and #2 teams as two of those losses. The win over Clemson not only righted the ship as far as the season goes, but also the overall perception of the program, a key in recruiting the talent needed to take the Gamecocks to a level to compete for SEC titles. The value of the win cannot be underestimated for the USC program.

The play after a penalty against the Gamecocks has been game-killers this season. The first play of the 2009 Clemson game was no exception. USC stopped CJ Spiller at the 24 yard line upon the kickoff, but a 5 yard offsides penalty forced the Gamecocks to take the kick over, and Spiller made the most of the second chance, returning the ball 88 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Tiger lead with only 19 seconds off the clock.

The Gamecocks almost lost the ball twice on their first drive, with a deep ball to Moe Brown being caught and dropped by a Clemson defender. Then Alshon Jeffrey fumbled the ball after making a first down catch, but Garrett Anderson jumped on the ball for the Gamecocks. The third time was the charm for the Tigers, when Rashard Hall intercepted Garcia at the Tiger 26.

The Tigers drove down the field to the USC 25 before returning the favor. Akeem Auguste caused a Tiger fumble, and Eric Norwood picked up the ball and was a shoestring tackle from taking it to the house, returning it to the USC 40 yard line.

The head ball coach pulled a long awaited trick out of his bag, inserting Stephon Gilmore in at quarterback in the Gamecock's version of the wildcat formation, "the Wild Cock." Gilmore took the ball himself on three straight rushing plays, and then threw the ball 39 yards to Jeffrey for a first down at the Clemson eight. After two more Gilmore rushes, Spurrier reinserted Garcia, who handed off to Brian Maddox on third down for a 1 yard touchdown run to the right side, tying the game at 7-7.

Gilmore, who plays almost every defensive play each game and also plays a key role on special teams, downplayed his not playing in the wildcat formation until the 12th game of the year. "It was Coach Spurrier's call all year. He wanted to run it, so I ran it." Spurrier said of his high-profile player's impact on the game from the formation, simply said, "Stephon is exciting with the ball." Referencing Gilmore's long pass completion, Spurrier said he hits it every time in practice.

USC kept the momentum and their thieving ways on the next Tiger drive, when USC freshman and former Tiger commitment DeVonte Holloman made the most of his first career interception, returning it 58 yards to the Clemson 11. Garcia rushed for two yards, and then finished it off with a nine yard tight end drag to Weslye Saunders in the left corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead.

USC forced Clemson to punt on their next drive, and took over with 14:47 in the second quarter when Gilmore returned the punt eight yards to the USC 23. Clemson forced a punt, but then got a roughing the kicker penalty and put the Gamecocks right back in business again. USC drove into Clemson territory, but after two shots at the end zone came up empty, Garcia was forced to scramble on third down for a crucial four yard gain.

Spencer Lanning came on and tied his personal record for longest field goal with a 47 yard boot that gave the Gamecocks a 17-7 lead with 10:44 left in the half.

After a stellar defensive stand, USC got a piece of the Clemson punt and the ball only traveled 13 yards, but Antonio Allen of the Gamecocks touched the ball, and Clemson jumped on it and regained possession. USC held again, and took over at their own 20 after a touchback.

After going three and out to start the second half, the USC offense was bailed out by their defensive brethren when Stephon Gilmore forced a fumble from CJ Spiller at the CU 35, after Spiller had caught the ball on a Tiger pass play. The Gamecocks couldn't do anything with the gift, and then Clemson blocked their first kick of any kind when Lanning attempted another field goal.

Clemson was again shut down by the Carolina D, and USC didn't waste their next opportunity, scoring quickly, the drive capped by a 14 yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Tori Gurley. The Gamecocks led 24-7, and the Gamecock fans were beginning to feel it.

Gurley was ecstatic after the game. "Stephen (Garcia) made a great throw, and we were able to execute to help us win."

Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker spent most of the next drive running for his life from Eric Norwood and company, as the garnet defenders took over like bullies and made the Clemson backfield their own personal playground. The Carolina offense played well today, but the Gamecock defense was stellar, holding Heisman-touted CJ Spiller to 18 yards on nine carries, and limiting the Clemson offense to 48 yards rushing, and shutting them out until the fourth quarter when USC held a 24-7 lead.

After the CU field goal, USC responded with a field goal of its own. When Clemson scored a late touchdown, the USC offense took pride in responding in kind. Alshon Jeffrey took the ensuing onside kick attempt 31 yards down to the Clemson four yard line. After three rushing attempts left the ball still on the one yard line, Garcia hit Saunders for the big tight end's second touchdown and the last score of the game with 2:40 left.

Spurrier said of the fourth down call, "That was an easy call. The clock stops on fourth down anyway so if we didn't make it, we'd leave it down there. We had a ten point lead. Thirteen isn't much better than 10. We needed to try to get a touchdown or see if Clemson could go 99 yards. That was an easy call. We thought they would be up there for the run, which they were, so Stephen got it out. It was good to get that touchdown.

The Gamecocks now await word where they will spend their holidays bowling.

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