Snap Judgments – 2018 USC @ Clemson Edition

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(Photo: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 56-35 loss to Clemson.

The balance of power. In the fall of 2009, Clemson came to Columbia having won 10 of the last 12 games in its rivalry with South Carolina. Many of those years both teams were average and/or forgettable, but for the most part Clemson had the better teams, so it wasn’t a big surprise they went on such a run. But Clemson had something else during those years. They had an edge. They had “it” (whatever “it” is). You always had a sense they believed they were going to win, while South Carolina was just hanging on and hoping they wouldn’t lose.

In ’09 that changed. Once Stephen Garcia and company broke through that day with a dominating 34-17 victory, that orange helmet with the tiger paw wasn’t so intimidating. For the next four games the likes of Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney, Connor Shaw, Alshon Jeffery and DeVonte Holloman played for the team that was feared. When South Carolina and Clemson played from 2009-2013, it felt like Clemson had no interest being on the field with the guys in garnet and black. We were in their heads, and it showed particularly late in games. 

The balance abruptly shifted again in 2014. That year the Gamecocks had taken a significant step back in talent and wins, and the Tigers had a guy named Deshaun Watson shred them on a torn ACL in the annual showdown. Clemson was no longer intimidated by the block C. The shoe was once again on the other foot.

For the past five years Clemson has experienced unprecedented success, moving from “nice program” to “elite program”. They have a National Championship on their resume, several ACC titles, and have finished in the top four in the country the last three years. They have also had South Carolina beaten before the two teams ever stepped on the field the last few years. The Gamecocks have been outclassed by a mile in talent, but they have also looked afraid and intimidated, which are two things you absolutely cannot be on a football field.

Last night in Clemson the balance did not shift back to South Carolina, but we did see something out of the Gamecocks we haven’t seen in a while in this rivalry – fight. For the first time since 2015 (ironically our 3-9 season) we saw a team that wasn’t scared. We saw a team that took a punch, and then threw one right back.

Yes, we still lost by three touchdowns. But after the way we’ve been beaten the last two years, last night was certainly a step in the right direction to get this rivalry back on even footing. 

Rage against the dying of the light. No play better captured the effort the Gamecocks put in last night than the next to last play of the game. With about 30 seconds to go, Deebo Samuel took a 20-yard throw from Jake Bentley, turned it upfield and ran like his life depended on it. He desperately weaved through the Clemson defense in a lost cause and picked up another 24 yards before being brought down, and then popped up and sprinted to his position to get ready for another play. Bentley then completed one more pass to Rico Dowdle for another first down, and you could see Bentley run to the line of scrimmage calling for a spike so they could get one last throw to the end zone. But the referees didn’t stop the clock for a first down and the game ended. 

Even to the final second, these guys were trying to score just to stick it to the Clemson defense one more time – a meaningless touchdown that wasn’t so meaningless. 

Bravo Deebo. Samuel will leave South Carolina without a win over Clemson, but he will leave as one of the most dynamic playmakers in school history. He torched the vaunted Tiger defense last night for 210 yards on ten catches with three touchdowns. He was spectacular and will be greatly missed. 

The Snake. Jake Bentley has had some kind of year. We all know his story – preseason hype, uneven play, calls for the backup, then a resurgence. He capped off his comeback story last night by putting up video game numbers against one of the top defenses in the country, throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns. It was the greatest statistical performance by a Gamecock quarterback in history. 

Since the first half of the Texas A&M game Bentley has been that quarterback we’ve all been waiting for. The only continued knock was his performance against elite competition. He kicked that door in last night.

There has been very little talk of Bentley possibly leaving for the NFL since early in the season. I haven’t heard anything after his performance last night, but I’m wondering if scouts will start looking at him again. Keep in mind, the NFL doesn’t value “signature wins” like fans do. They value size, arm strength, footwork, etc. – all things that Bentley has. I highly doubt he’d be able to work his way into a first round draft pick in the 2019, but if he continues at this pace he could certainly be there in 2020. 

M*A*S*H Unit. The defense gets a pass for last night (no pun intended). Clemson’s explosive offense took advantage of the Gamecocks missing their best player at all three levels, and multiple other key players. I doubt even at full health we would’ve won that game, but it sure would’ve been fun to find out. 

BMac. Bryan McClendon has come into his own the last few weeks. He continues to improve every week, and has thrown some innovative wrinkles into the offense that are fun and effective. I said before the season started that if he took the Gamecock offense into the top half of the SEC statistically it would be a minor miracle after our pitiful performance last year. Praise Jesus, BMac has done just that. 

Running it up. The controversy this morning, and you knew there had to be one, revolved around Dabo Swinney scoring a late touchdown instead of taking a knee and letting the clock run out. Let me be clear for any Clemson fan who may be visiting this site: I have no problem whatsoever with Swinney trying to score a late touchdown. The Tigers are positioning themselves for a top seed in the college football playoff. Style points matter. Beat every team by as many points as you can. I get it. 

The problem I, and many Gamecock fans had, was his explanation:

“Aw gee shucks man we was just running a basic play and they didn’t tackle him. How was I supposed to know we’d score hyuk hyuk.”

I mean, just shut up. Own the fact you were trying to score and I’d have a lot more respect for you. Don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by acting so innocent. Either take a knee or tell us you needed to score that touchdown for “insert any reason”. I could live with that. 

Then today he goes on a rant against some Clemson straw man who was apparently upset that they “only won by 21”. But Dabo being disingenuous is just, well, Dabo being Dabo. 

Onward and upward. Clemson fans are getting a good chuckle out of us claiming a “moral victory”. In the immortal words of my millennial friends – whatever. Losing sucks, but losing the way we lost last night is a lot more palatable than the way we lost the previous two years, I can tell you that. The Tigers are not happy at all that we’re taking satisfaction in punching their defense in the mouth repeatedly last night, and we can take some joy in that. 

I have no idea where we go from here, but it’s hard not to feel like the future is still bright. We need players, and a lot of them, on defense. The offense is shockingly better than I expected them to be at this point. Let’s roll Akron and then whoever we get in a bowl game, and get ready for 2019.

Go Cocks.  

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