10 things we learned about the Gamecocks

GoGamecocks staff reportsNovember 26, 2012 

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier yells out instructions in the third quarter of their game at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

1. The Gamecocks/SEC are still better than Clemson/ACC

South Carolina won its fourth straight against Clemson and did so without Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore. It marks the second time the Gamecocks have won four straight in this 110-game rivalry. Besides the Gamecocks stuffing the Tigers, Florida thumped Florida State, Georgia drilled Georgia Tech, and Vanderbilt crushed Wake Forest. Florida State and Clemson were clearly the ACC’s top teams, and they both fell hard to their instate rivals. Though there's no SEC Championship game, USC's season will still hold historical significance with 10 wins again and a chance for 11.

2. Bowl picture changes; Outback or Gator likely

Clemson's loss pretty much locks the Tigers into the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Some national projections a week ago had South Carolina going to Atlanta. Since Chick-fil-A likely won't want a rematch of Carolina-Clemson, the Gamecocks are all but assured another trip to the Sunshine State. Ten wins a year ago landed the Gamecocks in Orlando and the Capital One Bowl. This year it looks like Tampa or Jacksonville for USC. Both ESPN's Brad Edwards and Mark Schlabach predict South Carolina vs. Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. CollegeFootballNews.com also has USC in Tampa (against Michigan). With nine SEC teams bowl-eligible and five ahead of the Gamecocks in the BCS standings, there is some thinking that the Gamecocks could end up in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl. USC hasn't been there since 1987, while it has been to the Outback Bowl three times since 2000.

3. Dylan Thompson was fantastic

Thompson stepped in for the injured Shaw and completed 23-of-41 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He and his offensive teammates made sure the Tigers couldn’t get their high-powered attack in gear. The Gamecocks converted 11 of 21 third downs (and their only fourth down) to hold onto the ball for 39:58 of the game’s 60 minutes. Memorial Stadium was pretty loud early on Saturday, and it got quieter with each Thompson completion or successful run (he ran 14 times for 73 yards but lost 35 on sacks). “For a guy who hadn’t played much, he had a pretty good game,” Steve Spurrier said. Clemson's Dabo Swinney went a step further: “We couldn’t disrupt him. He threw the ball incredibly well. He was the difference in the game.”

4. Connor Shaw is still the starter

Thompson played well enough to at least raise the question of who will start the next game. It doesn't look like that will be up for debate. Shaw could have played if needed Saturday and will likely start the bowl game, Spurrier indicated. Shaw was sidelined by a foot injury that has bothered him for more than a month. He aggravated the injury in last week’s win over Wofford and was unable to practice last week. Spurrier indicated during a halftime interview with ESPN that he might give Shaw a shot in the second half of the game, but that was never needed.

5. Jadeveon Clowney was historic

The Gamecocks got a huge performance out of their game-changer on Saturday against Clemson, with Clowney delivering 4.5 sacks. The big game gave Clowney 13 sacks for the year, easily eclipsing Andrew Provence’s school record of 10, set in 1982 and tied by Melvin Ingram last season. Clowney's total sacks also lead the nation. Just in case his dominance had not been established, Clowney recorded his final sack on the final play of the game. Clowney has always been regarded as a "three-year guy" for the Gamecocks, and Spurrier admitted as much after the game: “We’ve got him one more year and then we’re going to shake his hand and thank him for everything he’s done for South Carolina.” On Monday he was named the SEC's defensive lineman of the week and the co-defensive player of the week.

6. The defense as a whole was solid

Clemson's offense lit up the stat sheet for much of the season. That didn't happen Saturday night. A team that was averaging 518.33 yards and 44.64 points per game was held to 328 and 17. The Tigers, previously averaging 332 yards a game in the air, had 183 yards, with more than half of that on three long completions. Brison Williams and DeVonte Holloman each picked off Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. D.J. Swearinger had five tackles, including a memorable pop on running back Andre Ellington.

7. Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington led the way (again)

Sanders had a career day receiving Saturday, pulling in six receptions for 119 yards and a score. Ellington, meanwhile, had seven catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. On the year they proved to be a reliable 1-2 punch for the Gamecocks' receiving corp. Who's the 1 and who's the 2? Take your pick. Statistically, Ellington finished the regular season first with 38 catches for 564 yards and six touchdowns. Sanders was next with 36 grabs for 439 yards and seven scores. Damiere Byrd is third among receivers with 12 catches for 303 yards, but most of that was early in the season.

8. Adam Yates was more than effective

South Carolina came into the game hoping to keep the ball away from Clemson’s dangerous kickoff return men, and place-kicker Adam Yates did just that. Yates’ first five kickoffs went into the end zone for touchbacks. Yates entered the game with a 50 percent touchback average. Yates also is 11-for-15 on the year in field-goal attempts. Yates was 2-for-2 in the contest as he connected on a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 43-yarder in the third quarter.

9. The penalties were a concern

South Carolina, which hasn't been penalized more than six times in a game all season, was flagged 12 times for 110 yards against Clemson. Nine of those penalties came in the second half, including an unsportsmanlike call against Swearinger after he quickly flexed his muscles toward Ellington after delivering the big hit. USC was flagged five times for holding, and one of those penalties was costly as Thompson had a touchdown run nullified.

10. Mike Davis is the running back of the future

We've seen flashes of Davis' ability and potential all year, including Saturday night against Clemson. Davis didn't play much last week after fumbling against Wofford. On Saturday he came in during the third quarter when Kenny Miles was banged up and responded with 12 carries for 43 yards and one reception for nine yards. Among his runs was a 26-yarder in the fourth quarter on the first play of USC's final scoring drive. He still has room to improve, as evidenced Saturday by a badly missed block. With Miles moving on and Marcus Lattimore's return still uncertain, Davis will get the first shot at the starting job heading into the 2013 season.

Game highlights

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