COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It’s been a season to forget at South Carolina, and interim coach Shawn Elliott was anxious to get going.
“Would y’all hurry up?” he said in the middle of his final postgame news conference. “This isn’t a funeral.”
A 37-32 loss to No. 1 Clemson dealt South Carolina its fifth straight loss, first losing season since 2003 and searching for a new coach after Saturday’s defeat left the Gamecocks with a 3-9 record.
Steve Spurrier, the team’s coach since 2005, resigned in mid-October, leaving Elliott to clean up the mess from a program that won 11 games each season from 2011 through 2013, but has gone 10-15 the past two years.
Elliott was 1-5 in his half-season, yet was proud that his players did not give up despite their struggles.
“I can’t tell you how privileged I’ve been to be the interim head coach here,” Elliott said. “It’s been a great experience. I love those players.”
South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner said last month that Elliott was a candidate for the full-time job. However, Elliott wasn’t sure when or if he would hear from Tanner.
In the meantime, he said he and his staff will go out recruiting this week and spread South Carolina’s message.
“We understand there are some needs to be addressed,” he said. “But it’s not as far off as you may think.”
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson ran for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth to cap a perfect, 12-0 season. He passed for 279 yards and ran for 114 to keep the Tigers on track for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson is 12-0 for the first time since winning the 1981 national championship.
And they’ve got a chance to do it again. Next up is No. 11 North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game on Dec. 5 and a win would send the Tigers, who are first in the CFP ranking, to the national semifinals.
As long as Watson’s around, the Tigers’ title chances are pretty good.
The Heisman Trophy hopeful had a 5-yard TD run and a 55-yard scoring pass to Deon Cain to put the Tigers up 14-0. He added 30 and 3-yard touchdown runs in the second half.
“He’s just a great leader and he’s very comfortable on that stage,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s what he was born to do. There’s nothing else I can tell you.”
Watson said the Tigers will enjoy this win, then regroup Sunday to focus on the Tar Heels.
“I’m just looking to be 13-0 next week,” he said.
Clemson extended its nation’s best win streak to 15 straight games. But if it was looking for style points to impress the CFP committee, this was not the way to do it.
The Tigers fumbled three times as their 18-point lead was cut to 28-25 with 12:19 left on Shon Carson’s 1-yard touchdown run and Lorenzo Nunez’s 2-point conversion.
Watson, though, followed series with a 60-yard scoring drive that he ended with a 3-yard burst around the left side.
Carson added an 11-yard touchdown catch with a second left and Clemson gave up the most points South Carolina has scored all year.
Still, the Tigers went past 500 yards for an eighth straight game and did enough on defense to corral the struggling Gamecocks.
South Carolina’s next coach won’t have playmaking standout Pharoh Cooper, who took part in Senior Day festivities after saying he’ll give up his final college season for the NFL draft.
This was the Tigers first win at Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007 and just the third victory in eight tries for Swinney against the Gamecocks.