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Tough loss caps tough season
No heartwarming New Year's Eve finish at Bank of America Stadium.
No triumphant ride off into the sunset for the team's 19 seniors, redshirt sophomore quarterback destined for the South Atlantic League and junior defensive end who is assumed to be on the fast-track to the NFL.
It was just another almost in a season chock full of them.
The loss also ended Clemson's run of 10-straight winning seasons as the Tigers fell to 6-7.
"It's hard to come out here with a losing record," Tajh Boyd, after completing 13 of 23 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. "I think we can make a guarantee that won't happen again."
The redshirt freshman was brought on in relief of in the second half after Kyle Parker went down with a broken rib.
Trailing 31-13 after an 8-yard fourth quarter touchdown run by B.J. Daniels, Boyd led a furious comeback attempt that included a pair of touchdown throws to Brandon Ford, who finished with four catches for 45 yards.
The second touchdown catch by Ford was setup by a Richard Jackson on-side kick that was recovered by DeAndre Hopkins.
DeAndre McDaniel recovered Jackson's second onside kick, but fielded the ball about a half yard shy of the required 10 yards.
Just like that, with less than a minute to play, the final chapter of Dabo Swinney's second full season as Clemson head coach was finished.
"The only thing really positive to say on our end is that we didn't quit," he said. "They kept battling and kept competing until the end."
Before suffering the rib injury on the Tigers' final drive of the first half, Parker completed 11 of 17 passes for 134 yards and an interception.
"I [said] shoot up and let's play, but I couldn't do it," he said.
Parker was told by team doctors that he wouldn't be playing in the second half.
"I thought it was a bruise," he said. "We went back into the x-ray room. One of my ribs, you could clearly see it wasn't together."
Daniels, South Florida's starting quarterback, was named the game's MVP.
After missing on his first two throws, one of which included an interception by Byron Maxwell, Daniels completed 20 of 25 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
Daniels played a big part in the 9 of 14 third-down conversion clip by the Bulls.
He also rushed 11 times for 22 yards.
"When we had them on third-down situations and couldn't stop them on third-down," Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "It was all on either lose contain, missed tackle off the field, or the scrambled…we didn't execute very well in those situations."
Clemson gained more yards than South Florida, but the Tigers had to settle for field goal attempts on three separate drives.
Chandler Catanzaro converted two (27, 44). His miss was from 46 yards.
It took Clemson 29:30 to reach pay dirt. Jamie Harper scored on 1-yard run, which cut South Florida's lead to 17-13.
Because of those first half struggles, Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier expects to lose some sleep.
"I think that South Florida's defense did a heck of a job," he said. "I think the things that are under our control were the turnovers [and] the penalties…those kinds of things are what I'll be up late at night thinking about."
Both Parker and Boyd threw interceptions that resulted in South Florida points.
In the second quarter, Parker was intercepted by Quenton Washington, who returned the pass 45 yards to the Clemson 10, setting up a 27-yard field goal by Maikon Bonani.
Boyd's fourth quarter pick, which was returned 48 yards by JaQuez Jenkins, led to Daniels' touchdown run.
"We've got a lot of fight in this team. It's going to be fun in the future," Boyd said.
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