While it’s disappointing that Carolina won 10 regular-season games without making it to Atlanta for the third straight season, I find it difficult to be disappointed with today. First of all, you have to hand it to Mizzou. Outside of one quarter against the Gamecocks, they’ve been nearly flawless this year. They earned it, and I tip my hat to Gary Pinkel and his team. If we had been similarly consistent, we wouldn’t have lost to a bad Tennessee team, and it would be us taking on Auburn. It's a tough thing to think about, but sometimes you have to give the other guy credit for being just a little bit better than your excellent.
More importantly, though, for all of Clemson’s talk of having dominated this series historically, this was the first time either team won five straight outside of one streak by the Tigers in the 1930s, and we’ve done it over solid Clemson teams. This is a streak we can be proud of. What’s more, we’ll go into next year with the nation’s longest home winning streak. Something else we can be proud of. These are all accomplishments that speak to our program’s rise into the national elite. Tonight, I’m happy with where this program is, and I believe we can continue to grow. If we’re consistently as good as we’ve been the past three years, eventually we’ll get another shot in Atlanta. Just gotta keep winning games.
As for the game itself, there were two stories. First of all, Clemson did a very good job of making sure that Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds didn’t dominate the game with their legs. We were held to only 140 rushing yards, and 94 of those were by Connor Shaw. If you had told me that would be the case prior to the game, I would have said it was bad news for Carolina. However, the QB draw served us well where traditional running plays did not, and Shaw also had a solid night passing the ball, particularly when it came to converting tough third downs. It wasn’t a beautiful night on offense for Carolina, but it was enough. You also have to give credit to Steve Spurrier for throwing the kitchen sink at Clemson. On a night when I was mildly afraid Spurrier would be saving things for a possible appearance in the SEC Championship Game, Spurrier emptied the play book, continuously rotating through formations and running multiple gadget plays. While they didn’t all work, they kept Clemson guessing enough to allow us to move the football when we needed to. To top it all off, Pharoh Cooper’s play-action to himself to set up a touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds will go down as a classic moment in the rivalry, a moment where Spurrier put the game away in with a flourish. You know Dabo felt that one.
The other story in the game, of course, and really the major one, was Carolina’s +6 turnover margin. The turnovers came in every shape and fashion—two Adam Humphries fumbles on kickoff returns, one Sammy Watkins INT on a trick play, one Tajh Boyd strip-fumble (give Chaz Sutton credit for finally coming through with a game-changing play on that one, probably the most important of the turnovers because it ended a Clemson drive while it was still a one-score game), and two Tajh Boyd INTs after the game was largely decided. The defense wasn’t perfect, as evidenced by some ugly penalties and third-and-long conversions. However, it generally got the job done. Whammy Ward dialed up a good game plan, and Carolina often executed. Jadeveon Clowney will go out 3-0 against Clemson and had one of his better games of the season, a game that included one last sack against his nemesis Tajh Boyd.
I hated seeing Mizzou win, but I loved tonight. It’s a great time to be a Gamecock, folks. Let's hope for a Cotton Bowl big and an exciting game against a Big 12 opponent.