COLUMBIA – It all felt so familiar, so repetitive, so tiring…
Mistakes sink Tigers yet again
Clemson was awful in both areas Saturday night, and that is why the Tigers have lost five straight games to the Gamecocks for the first time ever. And none of the games have really even been close. South Carolina has won all five by double-digits, and that shows just how wide the separation is between the two programs. Clemson has a solid program, and it will put up wins. But South Carolina has a strong program, and it will put up big wins. And that won't change until Clemson's coaching staff can change the team's turnover woes against the program's biggest rival. South Carolina came up with six turnovers Saturday and turned three of those into touchdowns. Three of the turnovers were just absolute awful plays by Clemson and nothing really that South Carolina caused. With the Tigers driving on their initial possession and badly needing to make a statement early, offensive coordinator Chad Morris got cute and threw a double pass that was picked off and killed any momentum Clemson had early. It never pays to be too cute with offensive play calls, and that one was an absolute blunder on Morris' part, and it changed the entire tone of the game. Why would a coach take the ball out of his best player's hands when his best player is off to a strong start? It just doesn't make sense. But Morris out-thought himself and overcoached instead of staying simple with something that was working. That's bad coaching. Later, Adam Humphries continued his struggles on punt returns. Humphries fumbled two punts, and South Carolina turned both of them into touchdowns. And he's supposed to be the sure-handed one, right? Clemson is now minus-13 in turnover margin against South Carolina in its losing streak, and that is just absolutely pitiful. Teams can't beat bad teams like that, much less teams with the superior coaching and superior talent that South Carolina has over Clemson right now. Tigers fans might not want to admit it, but that's where these two programs are right now. Dabo Swinney is a fine coach. Steve Spurrier is a great coach, and there's a difference. Third-down woes As important as the turnovers were and Morris' play-call was on the first one, the inability of Brent Venables' defensive unit to get off the field on third down was just as key. South Carolina was 10-of-19 on third down and continually kept drives going and kept the Clemson offense off the field, so it couldn't get into a rhythm. Sound familiar? That's exactly the game plan the Gamecocks used last year to win with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson running the show. The Gamecocks' offense ended up running 78 plays to just 57 for the Tigers. Clemson is just not physical enough up front on either line to stand up to that kind of difference. The offensive line was dominated by the Gamecocks (big surprise there, right?) , and the defensive line, which played well, simply wore down. The rest of the Clemson defense was atrocious. The linebackers were lost and couldn't make a play when it was badly needed, and the members of the secondary continued to show their lack of ability to make a play on the ball. Darius Robinson, in particular, had several chances to make key plays but simply couldn't. Bashaud Breeland struggled, as well, and Shaw simply picked apart the Tigers' back seven with his arm and his feet. Was there a plan? Speaking of Shaw's feet. Clemson had no answer for Shaw running the ball. It was almost like the coaching staff wasn't expecting South Carolina's senior quarterback to showcase that ability. But he did, and he did a lot, and he did it effectively. And Clemson's defensive staff and players were helpless to stop it. Shaw finished with 22 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown. Last year, Thompson kept Clemson off balance with 14 carries for 38 yards, and two years ago the Tigers allowed Shaw to run all over them for 107 yards on 19 carries. Yet, there seemed to be no game plan to slow down Shaw, and he took advantage of that all night long . Pivotal penalty Still, with all of those problems, the Tigers were right in the game at the end of the third quarter. They had tied the score at 17 and seemingly had the momentum on their side. But then they came up with another unforgivable miscue, and it changed the momentum right back to the Gamecocks. And it was probably the play of the game. Clemson's defense had made a stop and forced South Carolina to go for it on fourth down at its down 34-yard line. After a timeout, the Gamecocks still sent their offense back out on the field in a key spot, a spot that could determine the game. But no one really thought they were going to go for it, right? Well, DeShawn Williams did, and he jumped offsides as the South Carolina center twitched the ball and pulled off one of the oldest tricks in the book. Clemson not only had more turnovers; it also had more penalties (eight for 52 yards to just three for 20 yards for South Carolina), and none were bigger than Williams' mistake. The result was a first down, and South Carolina drove for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. That all but sealed it, and the Tigers killed any chances of forging a comeback with four turnovers in the final quarter. It was a familiar script with a familiar ending in this series. Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.
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