Bound To Happen

Jock McKissic

CLEMSON – It was bound to happen sooner or later. The odds say so. And so it was. It finally happened on this bright, sunny day at Death Valley that ultimately is the darkest day of the season for the Clemson football team.

Tigers placekicker Jad Dean missed a 39-yard field goal wide left with 13 seconds left in the game to give South Carolina the wild 31-28 victory Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

It's the first win for the Gamecocks (7-5) over No. 24 Clemson (8-4) in five years and just their second over the last decade.

"It's the situation that I want to be in," said Dean, who grew up a diehard Tigers fan and was all choked up and fighting back tears. "The fact that it's against our rival makes the miss hurt even more. As far as I know, the snap was perfect and the hold was perfect. I just didn't hit it well."

For one of the few times in history, the football gods smiled at South Carolina.

"You have people say that they were due to win a game against us," Clemson Tigers senior center Dustin Fry said. "It's never meant to be. I had hoped to be a part of a five-game winning streak."

Dean's miss means Clemson has lost three of its last four and goes limping into a bowl game that will likely be much lower than what was expected just some four games ago when the Tigers were ranked No. 10 in the nation.

"(The season's) been disappointing," Fry said. "We had a lot of goals coming into this season and we hit on a lot of them, but the major ones we didn't quite get to."

An obvious goal of Clemson was to try and slow down the offense of the Evil Genius, who is also known as Steve Spurrier.

That was another objective the Tigers failed to accomplish.

The Gamecocks rolled up an amazing 492 yards of total offense against the ninth-best total defense in the nation and the eighth-best scoring defense in the nation.

Shockingly enough, 208 of South Carolina's offense came on the ground. Running back Cory Boyd had 106 yards rushing on only 16 carries, while his teammate Mike Davis had 72 yards on only 12 carries. The two also combined to score three touchdowns.

"It pisses me off, to be honest with you," said Tigers defensive coordinator Vic Koenning on the run defense. "They ran down our throats. On a couple of the big runs, I had run blitzes called. It's disconcerting that we didn't make a play, but it isn't on the kids. There are things that I've got to find a way to do better. I'm going to shoulder 100 percent of the blame."

The run wasn't the only troubling area for Clemson as Gamecocks quarterback Blake Mitchell threw for 268 yards. He did toss three interceptions, which allowed Clemson to stay in the game.

"We had been moving the ball well," Spurrier said. "I told our guys that we've got to be resilient. Nobody was talking about being unlucky."

South Carolina players said they were successful at both because of the zone defense played by the Tigers. They also didn't feel like Clemson blitzed as often as other teams had.

"Their zone allowed us to run the ball," Mitchell said. "They brought five several times, but nothing that ever gave us any problems."

But it's not the offense was much better. Sure, they put up 21 points, but only seven points came after the first quarter.

Moreover, eight of their last nine drives resulted in five punts, an interception, a fumble and a missed field goal. Six of those non-scoring drives lasted five plays or less.

The saving grace was the three monster plays by a pair of freshmen in C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford.

Ford scored the game's first touchdown on a 76-yard touchdown reception in which the South Carolina defensive back fell down.

Following a game-tying drive by the Gamecocks, Spiller dashed up middle on a handoff and he raced 80 yards untouched to give Clemson a 14-7 lead with 5:19 left in the first quarter.

Spiller also had another nice touchdown run, this one going only 31 yards, to give the Tigers a 28-14 lead with 9:48 remaining in the third quarter. It was at this moment that it looked as though the Tigers would go onto another win.

"You felt like things were going our way, but we knew the way they were moving the ball that we had to score," Fry said. "We wanted to score every single drive because we knew every point was going to count."

However, the Clemson offense was more or less done from there, which allowed the Gamecocks to mount their comeback.

After a pair of Davis rushing touchdowns in the third quarter that tied it at 28, placekicker Ryan Succcop booted a 35-yard field goal with 7:51 left in the game to complete the comeback and scoring for both teams.

"You never want to lose to your rival, but you have to be realistic," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. "When you haven't lost very often like we haven't, it makes it hurt even more."

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