South Carolina quarterback Jason Brown could’ve taken the easy way out, could’ve pinned all of his Saturday night struggles on Clemson’s talented defense.
Just before Brown spoke to reporters following USC’s 30-0 shutout loss to rival Clemson, head coach Shane Beamer credited the stout Tigers defense for stymieing USC’s offensive attack. The look of pure exasperation on Beamer’s face mirrored the look he showed after USC lost by 27 points at Georgia in September, when the USC coach went on an infamous rant about Georgia having “like 100 five-star football players on their defense.”
Beamer was a bit more tame in his assessment of Clemson’s defense Saturday: “Like I told you ... after the Georgia game, they’re really, really good.”
But Beamer’s starting quarterback, Brown, didn’t buy it. He expected much more from himself and the sputtering Gamecocks offense that produced just 206 total yards to Clemson’s 343 and was shut out by the Tigers for the first time since 1989.
“I don’t think they really did anything defensively to make it hard,” Brown said. “We picked up pretty much everything. There’s a few things we missed. But I mean, we just had to play better. Obviously, that starts with me.”
The reality of the situation is likely somewhere in the middle. The Clemson defense is unquestionably talented, especially on the line. Defensive end Myles Murphy tallied four quarterback hurries by himself. But many of the problems that plagued the USC offense Saturday night have been recurring issues throughout the season, regardless of the defense on the other side.
A slow start? Check. The Gamecocks opened the game with two consecutive three-and-outs.
Lack of execution on third downs? The Gamecocks converted just four of 16 attempts.
Miscommunication and self-inflicted errors emerged early in what Beamer called a “horrific start.” The Gamecock offense was penalized for too many men on the field on the second play of the game. Brown threw an interception on the team’s third drive after a miscommunication with tight end Jaheim Bell, and he threw another pick on an ill-advised 50-50 ball to Josh Vann in double-coverage just in front of the Gamecocks end zone.
Brown finished the night 8 for 19 for 67 yards and two picks, replaced by former graduate transfer Zeb Noland in the waning minutes of the third quarter. If not for a last-minute, 72-yard drive in garbage time by Noland, the Gamecocks would’ve finished with their lowest yardage total in a game this season, behind their 185 yards they put up at Texas A&M.
Beamer had said the plan was to attack the Tigers through the ground, but the Gamecocks averaged just 2.2 yards per carry and put up a paltry 43 rushing yards for the game.
“We knew it was gonna be a challenge coming into this thing.,” Beamer said. “They’re one of the best defenses in the country. And they showed it tonight. I liked our plan going in. I really felt like we were gonna be able to run the football, and we weren’t able to, and we weren’t able to do much of anything.”
While the rivalry loss caps the regular season on a sour note, in the grand scheme, Year 1 remains a successful one for Beamer, who steered the Gamecocks to their first bowl game since 2018.
A shutout against the team’s fiercest rival won’t be easy to shake off, but Brown and the Gamecocks offense have the chance for a redemptive performance in whichever bowl game they end up playing in.
“We just can’t let this affect us, honestly,” Brown said. “It is a pretty tough performance everywhere on the field on offense tonight. And that starts with me.
“I gotta be better. That way, it energizes the team, and they’re better around me,” Brown said. “Don’t let this game affect us. We still have a whole other month together, so we can still finish this thing out with a win.”