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Garcia, defense help Gamecocks top No. 15 Clemson


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Garcia, defense help Gamecocks top No. 15 Clemson

COLUMBIA, S.C. --Stephen Garcia threw three touchdown passes and South Carolina's defense slowed down Clemson star C.J. Spiller in a 34-17 victory over the 15th-ranked Tigers on Saturday.

Spiller opened the game with an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, an NCAA record- setting seventh of his career. But the Gamecocks (7-5) bottled up Spiller and Clemson's high-scoring offense after that to end the Tigers' six-game win streak - and their dominance in the rivalry.

Clemson (8-4) had won two straight, six out of seven and 10 of 12 against the Gamecocks, who had only one victory over the Tigers in the last 10 games at Williams-Brice Stadium.

That changed against a South Carolina defense ranked third in the Southeastern Conference and fresh from a week off.

Clemson had just 260 yards of offense, well off the more than 415 it averaged the past six games. Spiller finished with 18 yards rushing and 19 receiving.

South Carolina fans chanted "S-E-C" as the outcome became clear.

The ACC's Atlantic Division champs head into next week's conference title game against Georgia Tech with several questions to answer. No. 1 among them: What happened to the offense?

The orange-clad fans among the 80,574 in the stands had little reason to doubt it'd be another day to celebrate when Spiller cut left and glided to his fourth kick return score this season less than 20 seconds in.

But the Tigers had only 138 yards through three quarters and looked nothing like the team that stormed its way to its first division title by scoring more than 40 points a game since mid-October.

There were interceptions, fumbles and penalties galore that helped South Carolina score 17 points in the opening half, more than it had in any of its last five games.

Jamie Harper's fumble turned into a 1-yard touchdown run by Brian Maddox to tie things.

Kyle Parker's first interception in three games followed on Clemson's next drive, with freshman Devonte Hollomon returning it 54 yards to the Tigers 11. Garcia connected with tight end Weslye Saunders for the go-ahead score from 9 yards out.

If you needed proof this was the Gamecocks' day, it came a series later.

Ricky Sapp had a roughing penalty on a punt to keep another Gamecocks drive going. That one ended with Spencer Lanning clanging a 47-yard field goal off the right upright.

Garcia clinched things in the third quarter with a 14-yard touchdown throw to a wide-open Tori Gurley.

Spiller fumbled on the Tigers' first possession of the second half, and Clemson got just one first down its next three series.

The victory ended what looked like another late-season swoon in Steve Spurrier's fifth year as Gamecocks coach.

In 2007, South Carolina opened 6-1 and lost its last five. A year ago, a 7-3 start was ruined by three straight defeats down the stretch.

The Gamecocks were 6-2 a month ago after beating Vanderbilt 14-10. Losses to Tennessee, Arkansas and top-ranked Florida had Spurrier fielding uncomfortable questions about playcalling and his future.

Spurrier, testily at times, preached patience and reminded critics his team's best days were down the road. That showed against the Tigers.

Hollomon's game-changing interception was the first of his career. Defensive back Stephon Gilmore, Hollomon's teammate at South Pointe High last fall, was used successfully in a wildcat look that set up Maddox's tying touchdown.

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I thought South Carolina would win, but I didn't think they would make Clemson look as bad as they did. Score doesn't even reflect how the game went, in my opinion. Clemson got rolled.

Hard to believe by watching this game that Clemson is one of the best teams in the ACC and will be playing for the ACC Championship...

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