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December 1, 2013

Defense responded to Clemson challenge



We have heard it a thousand times but it bears repeating -- the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Several streaks continued Saturday night as the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks made it five in a row versus the No. 6 Clemson Tigers. In those five wins, the defense has been the constant for USC. In five-straight losses to the Gamecocks, the Tigers have failed to score more than 17 points in a game.

It is widely believed among the Gamecock faithful that their squad is simply more physical than the Tigers. The theory is based upon the two differing leagues in which the two in-state schools participate. Regardless of the validity of that hypothesis, both fan bases would agree that the Gamecock defense has set the tone in this series of late.

USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward spoke of that physicality. He gave the impression that they may have gotten off to a bit of a slow start but started to get it going as the game wore on.

"I thought the guys started to play a lot more physical," Ward said.

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"Tahj (Boyd) is a real good football player. We hit him three times...sacked him three times...in the first half and tried to affect him."

Clemson reached their high-water mark of 17 points in 2009, 2012 and again in 2013. Once again it was not enough, and Boyd will end his college playing days never tasting victory against in his in-state rival.

A young USC defense led by upperclassmen Jadaveon Clowney, Kelsey Quarles, Chaz Sutton and Victor Hampton was able to rattle Boyd, turn him over, and return the ball to an offense that struggled at times. It was the defense effort that secured the victory for USC.

"I just told our freshman linebackers -- we've got a lot of freshmen that played -- they've been coming along good this season," Clowney said.

"They stepped up and did their job. They played a big part of this game."

Clowney was referring to interceptions by linebackers Skai Moore and T.J. Holloman who each picked off Boyd once during the game. However, it was not just the freshmen that got into the act.

With 8:38 remaining in the game and the outcome very much in doubt, senior defensive end Chaz Sutton came up in a big way for his unit.

With the Tigers on the march and Boyd running effectively, Sutton wrapped up the Clemson signal caller from behind and was able to strip the ball and recover it in one motion when the Tigers were looking to even the game at 24 apiece on the drive.

It would be the deepest the Tigers would penetrate into USC territory in the fourth quarter and it was Sutton that for all intents and purposes ended the Tigers best opportunity to even the score.

Kelcey Quarles also stepped up big in the game recording two-and-a-half sacks. Afterwards, Quarles said, "I just felt like I needed to go out and do what I needed to do to make plays and wreak havoc out there.

"I did my job," Quarles said.

Quarles went on to speak about the game plan and the importance of each player's responsibilities.

"We knew we had to go out there and apply pressure with the front four," he said. "We just had to do what was called. Don't try to be bigger than the system. We knew if we rattled (Boyd) with the front four than he would start throwing some ugly balls."

Lorenzo Ward did not mince words when speaking of the upperclassmen, especially Quarles. Ward said it was their pride that was so important against the Tigers.

"Yeah, they knew what this ballgame was about," Ward said. "This was about a lot of pride and a lot of those guys were out there playing in their last game ever in this stadium. We had an opportunity to go out and try to continue to get better. And I thought we did."

Victor Hampton was one those players making his last appearance, essentially announcing that this was his last game at Williams-Brice in the postgame press conference. Hampton was gleaming with pride and thrilled about the outcome.

"It means a lot," Hampton said. "Especially to end it like this. I'm proud of the guys because we earned this win tonight. It wasn't given to us.

"I'm at a lost for words...it's just a great achievement."

Connor Shaw is well-deserving of the accolades that have been and will be bestowed upon him. He is undefeated at William-Brice and will never, ever, lose a home game.

Yet Shaw himself will remind everyone of the importance of that physical defense known as "The Goon Squad" especially on this night when they recorded six turnovers and allowed just 17 points.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.






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