That was no surprise, given the fact that the No. 14 Gamecocks relied on the unit all year to come up with big plays and preserve several close wins.
But the Gamecocks’ offense showed up too, and the result was a convincing 34-13 victory over the rival Tigers in front of 83,422 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The victory was a milestone on two counts for South Carolina: it gave the Gamecocks their second 10-win season in school history, and the third consecutive win over the Tigers was their first such streak since 1968-70.
“Ten wins is special. It’s neat to beat Clemson because they’ve historically owned us,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “They don’t own us right now, that’s for sure.”
South Carolina held 18th-ranked Clemson’s high-flying attack in check, allowing the Tigers only 153 total yards. It was Clemson’s lowest point total of the season.
The Gamecocks’ defensive line pressured Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd all night, and held him to 11 of 30 for just 83 yards.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw enjoyed the finest game of his career as he threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another. Shaw finished with 107 yards rushing and threw for 210 yards.
The 109th meeting between the two schools was one of the most anticipated games in the history of the rivarly. The combined 18 wins was the most in series history, and it was just the fourth time both came into the game ranked in the national polls.
Clemson (9-3) started the season 8-0 and rose as high as No. 5 in the BCS standings, but sputtered in its final four games. It lost three of its last four games, but will still play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Saturday against Virginia Tech.
South Carolina entered the year with lofty expectations, but a home loss to Auburn and the dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia provided some bumps. Still, the Gamecocks (10-2) completed their best Southeastern Conference campaign with a 6-2 mark and will have a shot to win a school-record 11th contest in its bowl game.
The Gamecocks padded a slim halftime lead when Shaw found Rory Anderson on a 55-yard gain. That set up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Anderson and a 24-10 lead.
The Tigers cut into the lead with Chandler Catanzaro’s second field goal of the night, but South Carolina responded with 10 points to close out the game. Jay Wooten’s second field goal of the night was followed by Shaw threading an 18-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery.
Shaw used his arm and his feet to help South Carolina build a 17-10 lead at halftime.
The Gamecocks took the opening kickoff and drove downfield for a 47-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead, a rarity since the Gamecocks allowed their opponent to score first in 10 of 11 games this season.
Shaw connected with Bruce Ellington for a 49-yard touchdown pass to put the home team ahead 10-0, but Clemson responded with a Boyd touchdown pass and field goal to tie the game.
The Gamecocks responded late in the first half when Shaw drove his team for the go-ahead score, and he rushed for the touchdown from 15 yards out.
“It was a pretty special win for us tonight,” Shaw said. “It’s huge for our program, our fan base and our team.”