South Carolina took advantage of six Clemson turnovers to pull away late and secure a 31-17 victory over the Tigers in front of a delirious Williams-Brice crowd. While the Gamecocks won't be winning an SEC title this year thanks to Missouri's win over Texas A&M, there are still some important takeaways from this turnover-filled game for South Carolina.
We'll have to likely wait at least a week to find out where South Carolina will be playing its bowl game, but in the meantime, here are 10 things we learned about the 10-2 Gamecocks—who will be a feisty opponent for whichever team is unlucky enough to draw them come bowl selection time.
If you look at Connor Shaw as a passer against Clemson, he wasn't all that spectacular; his 14-of-26 passing for 152 and a touchdown isn't terrible, but it really isn't anything to get all excited about, either. But where Shaw really made a difference—and where he's always made up for a lack of huge passing numbers—was on the ground.
Shaw carried the ball 22 times for 94 yards and a touchdown. If you take away the sacks on the evening, he was well over the 100-yard mark. When it comes to total offensive output, Shaw was pretty impressive after all.
There are few quarterbacks who can really do what Shaw does. He passes, he runs and he guides the offense down the field with a calm ease of which only a small handful—AJ McCarron, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston included—are capable of.
Shaw has played his last game at Williams-Brice, and South Carolina fans will quickly learn how much he meant to his team's success.
This one is short and sweet, because what else really needs to be said? If you want to turn the ball over six times against a team like South Carolina, you better be prepared to lose.
South Carolina is just too good with the ball to be giving the Gamecocks free shots with short fields. It probably should be mentioned that South Carolina's defense had a good deal to do with most of the turnovers committed by Clemson, but sometimes being in the right spot at the right time pays off, too.
The Gamecocks also showed great discipline by simply falling on the multiple fumbles the Tigers put on the ground rather than trying the old "scoop-and-score." With highlight-reel moments all the rage, it's easy to lose track of the necessity to secure the turnover first.
That's not a problem for South Carolina.
Penalties drive coaches nuts, especially coaches named Steve Spurrier. But his Gamecocks are doing his blood pressure a big favor by limiting mental mistakes against Clemson.
Coming into the game against Clemson, South Carolina was actually one of the more penalized teams in the SEC. The Gamecocks were eighth in the SEC with 45.5 yards per game in penalties (5.6 penalties per game). South Carolina improved on that against the Tigers, drawing just three flags for 20 yards.
Beyond penalties, South Carolina, under the careful on-field guidance of Shaw, has shown an innate ability to avoid costly mistakes in critical situations. The Gamecocks didn't give the ball away against Clemson, and even when the ball did end up on the grass, the Gamecocks were smart enough to simply fall on the ball, limit the damage and escape.
How many times have we seen players this season try to make something out of a bad situation, only to make things worse? Not from a Spurrier-coached team!
It took guts, but there were a few pundits who were brave enough to call Jadeveon Clowney overrated before the 2013 season began. Indeed, as it turned out, Clowney couldn't live up to the massive hype of the preseason.
But don't think for one second that he's not still a force which all opposing quarterbacks must fear. His numbers Saturday night weren't eye-popping, but that's par for the 2013 season for Clowney. Most importantly, however, Clowney was able to get to Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd early in the game and disrupt the flow of the Tigers' backfield.
Even without putting up big numbers of laying on punishing hits, Clowney is still making an impact that his teammates and coaches feel.
South Carolina converted 10 of its 19 third-down attempts against Clemson. Of the 10 conversions, eight were from what we would consider short-to-medium range (less than seven yards). Of the nine that were not converted, seven were from seven or more yards.
You figure it out.
Obviously, South Carolina puts itself in favorable positions to convert on third downs, and that's a lot easier said than done. Who do you thank for this kind of success? Spurrier with his at times methodical, but successful play-calling and Shaw and his dual-threat ability to execute the Head Ball Caoch's orders.
Sure, Clowney has received the lion's share of the press ink this season. But with big contributions in big situations from players like Chaz Sutton and Mason Harris, there's much more depth to this Gamecocks D-line than most people realize.
Will South Carolina miss Clowney when he leaves for the NFL? Certainly. But will it decimate the front seven the way so many believe it will? We're not at all convinced of that.
Harris in particular is an impressive up-and-coming sophomore. While he played in just his seventh game this season, he's making an impact that exceeds his light resume. Offensive linemen have trouble containing him, and Harris has shown some great moves and ability to read what goes on in the offensive backfield.
He may not be Clowney, but he's definitely a player South Carolina fans should keep their eyes on over the offseason.
You might have to excuse football fans who don't watch every snap of South Carolina football for not knowing names like Skai Moore. But it's often these unheralded youngsters or backups who can come through in critical moments.
Speaking of Moore, he not only came away with a crucial interception against Clemson, the freshman linebacker was instrumental in putting a great deal of pressure on Boyd all evening long.
While just one small example, these unsung heroes of South Carolina are a major part of any team that managed to win 10 games against the caliber of competition the Gamecocks face each and every week.
The Head Ball Coach is much loved by South Carolina fans for his folksy demeanor, and the press (mostly) loves him for his unique—and often unintentionally hilarious—interview style. But whether you love him or hate him, you can't deny that Spurrier has earned his moniker as the HBC.
With one of the most inexplicable playbooks around, Spurrier can direct a traditional drive or dial up some of the most bizarre and unexpected razzle-dazzle plays you've ever seen. While only getting a small glimpse Saturday night, Spurrier wasn't afraid to dial up some of his uniqueness—even calling for the pass out of the Wildcat (which, of course, worked to perfection for a touchdown).
Admit it, South Carolina haters: You would want Spurrier on your sideline if it was possible.
Three seasons, 17 home starts, 17 home victories, 5,610 passing yards, 52 passing touchdowns to just 16 interceptions and numerous South Carolina records.
It's bittersweet to think back on Shaw now that he's finishing his South Carolina career; sweet for all of the right reasons and bitter once you realize how rare quarterbacks like Shaw truly are.
Connor Shaws aren't readily available with each new recruiting class. While Gamecocks fans would like to believe the next big thing is right around the corner, one must remember that South Carolina began playing football in 1892. In all that time, how many Shaw-like players have graced the field for the Gamecocks?
Shaw will have to be replaced, like all quarterbacks must eventually be. But he'll leave behind some pretty massive cleats to fill, and we're not sure how long it will be before South Carolina will see another great quite like him.
South Carolina proved that it belongs among the nation's very best programs. And with 10 BCS bowl positions available, you would think there would be more than enough room for the likes of South Carolina this season.
But you'd be wrong.
Texas A&M didn't do South Carolina any favors, and Missouri—not South Carolina—will represent the East Division as outright champions in the SEC Championship Game. It also probably didn't help that Auburn knocked off No. 1 Alabama. With the Crimson Tide's regular season now complete, it's likely Alabama will be the SEC's "at-large" representative to the BCS to go along with the winner of the SEC title game.
Thanks to those much-maligned BCS rules, that's the limit for the SEC.
But South Carolina fans should eagerly await a quality Big Ten opponent in the Capital One Bowl or perhaps even a top Big 12 team in the Cotton Bowl come January. And the Gamecocks should be the favorites.
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