No problem for South Carolina.
With the regular quarterback out nursing a sore foot, the Gamecocks turned the play-calling duties over to Dylan Thompson for Saturday night’s showdown against Clemson.
The sophomore from nearby Boiling Springs, S.C., didn’t flinch in his turn in the spotlight. Thompson threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns as the Gamecocks defeated the Tigers 27-17 in front of 82,000 fans at Memorial Stadium.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Thompson, who found out Thanksgiving Day he would get the start. “I was confident. And everyone was so encouraging.”
Thompson had only one previous career start, and that came in South Carolina’s second game of the season against East Carolina. Thompson threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in place of Shaw, who was banged up in the season opener against Vanderbilt.
Thompson grew up well-versed in the rivalry, and his sister graduated from Clemson. But he will hold bragging rights for the next year.
The 13th-ranked Gamecocks improved to 10-2 and can match the school record for wins in a season with a win in their bowl game. No. 12 Clemson dropped to 10-2 and saw its hopes for an
at-large bid to a BCS bowl evaporate.
It was the fourth consecutive win for South Carolina against Clemson, something the Gamecocks had only done once (1951-54) in the rivalry that dates to 1896. The Tigers still lead the all-time series 65-41-4.
It also made South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier the school’s all-time winningest coach. Now in his eighth season, Spurrier has a record of 65-37. He was previously tied with Rex Enright, who had a record of 64-69-7 in 140 games.
“When we play Clemson it seems they don’t play very well,” Spurrier said. “Really, really proud of our defense. That’s one of the best offenses in the country, and we held them down pretty well to 17 points.”
Spurrier said the decision to start Thompson was made after Shaw didn’t practice Wednesday.
“(Thompson) played pretty well. He missed a few here and there, but he was ready to play,” Spurrier said. “He wanted to play. Connor wasn’t able to practice all week, and he needed to rest that foot. It was time to give Dylan another shot. He played earlier in the year, and he played pretty well.”
Clemson entered the game with its high-powered offense ranked fourth in the nation averaging 44.6 points per game. But South Carolina’s defense, led by Jadeveon Clowney’s constant pressure on Tajh Boyd, held the Tigers in check.
Clemson held a 14-10 lead at halftime thanks to a pair of Boyd-led touchdowns in the first quarter. Boyd ran for a 3-yard score, then found DeAndre Hopkins on a 43-yard strike.
South Carolina countered with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to Bruce Ellington and a 29-yard field goal by Adam Yates.
South Carolina took control of the game in the third quarter when Thompson scrambled and found Ace Sanders open for a 34-yard scoring pass. Another Gamecock drive culminated in a 43-yard field goal by Yates.
For the quarter, the Gamecocks ran 29 plays to just eight for the Tigers.
“We couldn’t get the ball in the third period,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We just couldn’t stop them on third down.”
South Carolina dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for nearly 40 minutes to Clemson’s 20. The Gamecocks also ran 86 plays to Clemson’s 59.
“Coming into the game our goal was to keep Clemson’s offense off the field,” Thompson said.
That mission was accomplished, and Thompson also beat Clemson with his feet in addition to his arm. Late in the game, with South Carolina facing third and 19, Thompson rushed for 20 yards to get a valuable first down. That led to a Thompson touchdown pass to Ellington from 6 yards out.
“We couldn’t disrupt him,” Swinney said. “He threw the ball incredibly well. He was the difference in the game.”
So was Clowney, who finished the game with 4 1/2 sacks and seven total tackles. Fittingly, he took down Boyd on the game’s final play.
“We’ve got him one more year, and then we’re going to shake his hand and thank him for everything he’s done for South Carolina,” Spurrier said.