Snap Judgments – 2022 USC @ Clemson

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Beat Clemson. Before Saturday the last time South Carolina had beaten Clemson was 2013, which at the time was a resounding fifth consecutive victory over the Tigers in a streak that felt like it might never end. As I’ve written before, we were in their heads. We had a spell on them. They were snakebitten. However you want to phrase it, when the fellas in the orange helmets saw the block C and the Fighting Gamecock logo they were spellbound. During our five game streak we never really blew them out, but the better team won every year.

Even in 2014 when a fairly pedestrian Gamecock team jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the Tigers I thought to myself – “we’re still in their heads”. Unfortunately, I was wrong that day. Clemson would win 35-17, and it was the beginning of an abrupt and complete swing in the rivalry.

In 2015 it was 37-32, by far be the closest game in Clemson’s win streak, which was ironic because the Gamecocks were led by a lame duck head coach and had just been beaten by The Citadel. Then it was 56-7, 34-10, 56-35, 38-3 and a demoralizing 30-0 loss at home in 2021.

The rivalry had become gross for South Carolina fans. It was a regular season finale we neither looked forward to nor felt like we had a reasonable shot to win, year after year. The brutally honest question became “when are we ever going to beat Clemson again?”

It certainly hasn’t felt like “next year” for any year since 2014. Clemson was a perinnial ACC Champion and college football playoff contender. South Carolina was wading through the muck of the Will Muschamp era and the subsequent clean up job tasked to Shane Beamer. It was looking like this streak could hit double digits and beyond.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Gamecocks, after losing to average-as-grits Missouri and Florida, struck the college football world with a lightning bolt last week by thrashing fifth-ranked Tennessee. Meanwhile, Clemson had been regressing ever-so-slightly since the departure of Trevor Lawrence and, despite another 10-win season already secured, did not appear to be the Clemson of old.

Despite this glimmer of optimism, the game on Saturday did not start out like USC was about to break a monmumental losing streak. Spencer Rattler threw an early pick six that harkened back to the 2017 game (Jake Bentley anyone?) and by the end of the first quarter the Gamecocks were down 14-0. It all felt very familiar, as did the smug looks on the Clemson fans in the stands.

But the Gamecocks punched back. And kept punching back, even after a backbreaking interception by Rattler that could’ve cut the Clemson lead to two before halftime. USC scored a touchdown early in the third quarter, only to see Clemson answer with a score that made it fell like they were going to be able to keep us at arms length all day. Then, at 30-21, Rattler hit Juice Wells with at 72-yard dart that cut the lead back to two near the end of the third quarter. There was no quitting this time around.

A Mitch Jeter field goal to put the Gamecocks up 31-30 at 10:54 in the third quarter didn’t feel like they’d be the last points of the game, but the USC and Clemson defenses shut down the respective offenses until late. When Antonio Williams (remember him?) fumbled on a punt return that would’ve put the Tigers in great position for a game-winning field goal we could all taste it. When Juice Wells took a safe screen pass and fought off every Clemson defender in a five-mile radius to reach the sticks for a first down, we could feast on that meal that had been so long coming.

The streak was over. The wait was over. We beat Clemson.

Special. In my life of following football I always give lip service to the “three phases of the game” talk. Sure, sure, but we know special teams isn’t as important and OFFENSE and DEFENSE, right? Bully on me. I’ve never seen a team that relies on special teams to win games the way this Gamecock team does, and Saturday was as prime an example as we’ll every see. A fumble recovery on a kickoff (or free kick after safety if you will). A fumble recovery on a punt. A great punt return by Ahmerean Brown to set up a touchdown. Kai Kroeger continually giving the Tigers a long field to navigate. Mitch Jeter with the tackle that led to the fumble on the free kick, and nailing the game winner while remaining perfect on the season.

Just a dominant performance by Pete Lembo and company.

D-fense. The South Carolina defense, beaten and battered for most of the season, played an incredible second half on Saturday. They held Clemson to 86 yards in the second half, and six of seven Tiger drives in the second half were less than 25 yards.

Rattler and Satterfield. Anything we say here will be redundant, but what a performance from each man the last two weeks. Whether Rattler is back next year or not, he cemented his legacy as a Gamecock yesterday. And Satterfield, a dead man walking three weeks ago, will most assuredly be back next year to run the offense. Quite a turnaround.

Game balls.

  • Nate Adkins. My goodness what a day. Spectacular catch to set up a touchdown. Big third down conversion to set up another touchdown. Punched the ball away from Williams to secure the win. Not bad for a grad transfer from East Tennessee State.
  • Marcellus Dial, Jr. Lockdown all day long.
  • Sherrod Greene. Well deserved for his play and how long he’s stuck it out.
  • Mitch Jeter. Tackling machine, ace kicker.
  • Kai Kroeger. All-American.
  • Juice Wells. Stud, stud, stud.

Streak busters. Streaks that ended in Clemson, SC on Saturday:

  • Seven straight wins for Clemson in the rivalry
  • A 40-game Clemson home winning streak
  • A 68-game Clemson winning streak when leading at halftime
  • A 49-game Clemson winning streak when they have a 100-yard rusher
  • Also, not a streak, but it was only the second time a Dabo Swinney-led Clemson team lost while rushing for 200 yards.

R-E-L-A-X. As I stated in a tweet a couple of weeks ago – never tell a person how to be a fan. We all have different ways of dealing with wins and losses and all the things that go along with fanhood.

HOWEVER…I was flabbergasted at the negativity thay flowed after Spencer Rattler’s first interception yesterday. “The real Spencer Rattler is back.” “Marcus Satterfield must be calling plays again.” And my personal favorite after punting the ball away down 7-0: “We needed to score on that drive, this game is over.” This was with more than TEN MINUTES LEFT IN THE FIRST QUARTER.

We run a Twitter account that was once called “the most negative Gamecock Twitter account in existence” and even we thought that was a little much.

View from the other side. If I’m a Clemson fan I’m furious. DJU’s performance was the worst quarterback performance we’ve seen all year, and it’s not particulary close. (EDIT: I originally said he was the worst QB we’ve seen all year which in retrospect was a little hyperbolic.) There’s no way their backup could’ve done worse. Also, they had a guy averaging nine yards per carry that only got twelve touches. They kept trying to throw the ball instead of run, run, run. Clemson coaching contributed heavily to their loss yesterday.

Also, let’s talk about Dabo for a moment. Many Gamecock fans gave him credit for being humble and kind in his postgame yesterday. Don’t buy into it people. As @chickenhoops pointed out, now that his program is solidly elevated above ours (don’t get mad at that statement, it’s still true) he feels like he can be patronizing towards us even in a loss. His “USC is in California and Carolina is North Carolina” rant should never be far from your mind. That’s the real Dabo.

Football games come and go, but pettiness is forever.

What’s next. A pretty good bowl game, that’s what. A month ago I was dreading another trip to Birmingham to play a quality AAC opponent or something along those lines. But now we’re the toast of the college football world for the second week in a row, slaying another much-reviled orange-tinged program that the majority of the CFB world likes to see suffer.

So what else is next? Heck, I don’t know. What a wild ride the last couple of weeks has been. I’m just going to sit back, let it soak in and enjoy it for the next few weeks. Sound good? Good.

Go Cocks!