Two painful defeats for Palmetto State
Questions abound as Clemson, S. Carolina suffer conference losses
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- There hasn't been a football hangover like this in the Palmetto State since New Year's Eve 2010. That was the last time before Saturday fans of the state's two major college programs endured defeats on the same day.
And it was difficult to determine whether Gamecocks or Tigers fans hurt more.
No. 20 South Carolina was stung by Tennessee's fourth-quarter rally, the unranked Vols ending a four-year streak of losses to ranked opponents 23-21 on Michael Palardy's 19-yard field as time ran out.
''I couldn't sleep hardly a bit [Saturday] night,'' Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday.
Clemson fans know the feeling.
The ninth-ranked Tigers had hoped to take control of the Atlantic Coast Conference race and cement themselves as national championship contenders. Instead, they surrendered the most points in Death Valley history in a 51-14 beatdown by Florida State.
''Very disappointed in how we played [Saturday] night,'' Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. Watching ''the film wasn't much better.''
Both programs have been top 25 fixtures the past few seasons, giving college football fans in the state plenty to brag about before this weekend.
Since a 31-26 loss to South Florida in the Meineke Bowl on Dec. 31, 2010, Clemson has gone 27-7, won the 2011 ACC championship and defeated Southeastern Conference superpowers in LSU and Georgia behind defending ACC player of the year in quarterback Tajh Boyd and All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
A few hours after Clemson's bowl loss nearly three years ago, South Carolina fell to the Seminoles 26-17 at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. And like the Tigers, the Gamecocks have continued a steady rise into the national spotlight. They've had back-to-back 11-2 seasons the past two years -- a program first -- and have gotten continual attention because of All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and record-setting running back Marcus Lattimore.
After Saturday, the two schools have several questions to answer.
The Gamecocks had figured to grab hold of the SEC Eastern Division at Neyland Stadium and, after a sluggish start, led 21-17 in the fourth quarter and figured to try and run out the game with mobile quarterback Connor Shaw and the SEC's leading rusher in Mike Davis.
Instead, Shaw got crunched midway through final period and suffered a left knee sprain that Spurrier says will most likely keep him out of next Saturday's game at SEC East leader, No. 5 Missouri.
Without Shaw's versatility, the Gamecocks offense bogged down and they twice gave the ball back to Tennessee for an upset chance. The Vols did it on their last possession, freshman receiver Marquez North with a one-armed catch with South Carolina's Ahmad Christian in seemingly good position to make a play. The stunned South Carolina defense couldn't compose itself after that and Tennessee put Palardy in chip-shot range.
Spurrier questioned his play-calling down the stretch and acknowledged he would've gone for it on fourth down deep in Gamecocks territory if his offense needed one yard instead of two. Spurrier used two time outs considering the decision before punting.
Clemson contest in front of 83,428 fans at Memorial Stadium was over at halftime. The Tigers had four turnovers -- they came into the game with only four all season -- and Florida State turned them into 24 points.
Boyd was off-target throughout the contest and finished with just 156 yards passing. He was in a walking boot after the game protecting a sprained ankle, but said he would be fine when Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) travels to Maryland next Saturday.
''It's never as good as it seems, but also never as bad as it seems,'' Boyd said. ''There will be some good things to take away from this. There are guys who played well, but overall we have to play better.''
Spurrier and the Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2) will try to do that at Missouri. The coach said that's the first step toward working themselves back in the divisional race since undefeated Missouri has a two-game lead against the East's three favorites in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
''I think we all know that there's a lot of ball still left for everyone,'' Spurrier said.
And more chances to make Palmetto State fans happy again.