Tajh Boyd is hands down the best quarterback in Clemson football history – the owner of 57 school records, numerous ACC marks as well as an amazing 31-8 record as a starter. Meanwhile Sammy Watkins is the most gifted wide receiver in Clemson history – and a likely top 10 NFL draft pick next year.
Vic Beasley? He’s the best defensive lineman the Tigers have seen in years – and another sure-fire 2014 NFL first round draft pick.
Bottom line? The 2013 Tigers were arguably the most talented team in school history … even better than the 1981 national championship squad (whose off-field exploits landed the Tigers on NCAA probation).
So what happened? How did the greatest Clemson team ever lose to South Carolina … again?
Seriously … the Tigers beat Georgia (a team that turned around and beat South Carolina by 11 points). And prior to its rivalry loss Clemson’s only other defeat was against Florida State: The No. 1 team in the nation.
South Carolina? They lost to friggin’ Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC).
The obvious answer to the “what happened” question is the six turnovers Clemson committed – which led both Boyd and Watkins (who combined for four of those turnovers) to conclude that Carolina didn’t beat Clemson, Clemson did.
“We just never really play a complete and clean game against these guys,” Boyd said after the game, adding that the Tigers “just shot ourselves in the foot.”
“We beat ourselves,” Watkins concurred. “That isn’t Clemson football.”
Indeed Clemson out-gained South Carolina by a 352-318 margin on Saturday – although let’s not forget this is an offense that averaged more than 500 yards per contest (No. 12 in all of FBS).
So it wasn’t just the six turnovers …
Also, the last time we checked South Carolina had a hand in causing more than a few of those miscues.
For example, USC defensive back Brison Williams had to run halfway across the field to intercept Watkins’ throw on the Tigers’ opening drive of the game (saving a touchdown in the process). Then there was defensive lineman Chaz Sutton – who showed his strength by stripping the football away from Boyd on a critical drive midway through the fourth quarter.
Those weren’t “Clemson miscues.” They were exceptional plays by Gamecock defenders …
And while we’re on the subject of exceptional plays, let’s not forget the one turned in by South Carolina linebacker Kaiwan Lewis – who knocked the ball out of Clemson punt returner Adam Humphries’ hands at another critical moment in the fourth quarter.
Seriously … was that a Clemson “miscue?” Or another outstanding takeaway by South Carolina?
We’ve heard countless Clemson fans lament their team’s latest loss by saying “Carolina wouldn’t have won if we hadn’t turned the ball over six times” (i.e. exactly what Boyd and Watkins are saying).
Here’s the problem, though: Clemson did turn the ball over six times.
Miss that? We’ll repeat ourselves: Clemson did turn the ball over six times.
But more to the point, three of those turnovers were the direct result of stellar individual efforts from South Carolina defenders (namely Williams, Sutton and Lewis). In fact with the exception of a muffed punt return in the first quarter, Clemson’s only unforced errors – the two Tajh Boyd picks – occurred with less than four minutes on the clock and the Tigers trailing by two touchdowns.
So yeah … “tweet that,” Tiger fans.
Clemson didn’t lose this game, South Carolina won it – by forcing turnovers at critical moments and capitalizing on those takeaways.
Clemson’s players and fans need to acknowledge that … and stop making excuses. Otherwise they’ll never reclaim the ownership papers in this rivalry.
Pics: Travis Bell Photography