As the start of the 2012 season nears, GamecockCentral.com's David Cloninger takes a look back at the top plays of 2011, South Carolina's finest year. The No. 1 play from last year will be revealed on Aug. 30, USC's season-opener.
NO. 13: All Day
The game: No. 18 Clemson at No. 14 South Carolina, Nov. 26
The scene: South Carolina 3, Clemson 0, 10:23, first quarter
The cast: Defensive head Ellis Johnson, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd
The setup: In the annual grudge match, the Gamecocks knew that it was their only chance for a championship, while Clemson knew it was headed to the ACC Championship Game the next week. That didn't stop the Tigers from wanting a win - they didn't want to become the first Clemson team in 41 years to lose three straight to USC.
USC had a defensive plan to stop the Tigers' high-octane offense, but had to wait until the Gamecocks chewed nearly five minutes of clock and ended it with a Jay Wooten field goal. After Clemson returned the kickoff to the 35-yard-line, Johnson implemented his plan.
Johnson knew that Boyd, left with room to look and throw, would crush a defense by either throwing to top target Sammy Watkins or waiting until the front line melted while guarding the spread receivers, and then running. Johnson also knew that Boyd would look to Watkins first, wanting to hurt the Gamecocks early and set their tone. It's why when Johnson saw Watkins line up on the right, he radioed to the sideline and asked for Gilmore, on the opposite side, to move up to the line and shadow his receiver.
To Boyd, it looked like Gilmore was blanketing the receiver and taking away that side of the field. Watkins, on the other side, would be open for a screen pass.
The play: Boyd took the snap and was automatically looking right, toward Watkins. Gilmore, with no intention of dropping back in coverage, raced in on a dead sprint, aiming his helmet right between the "1" and "0" printed on Boyd's back.
Gilmore got to Boyd just as he released, his right arm blasting Boyd's collar and knocking the touch out of the pass as he plowed into Boyd from the blind side. The pass fluttered out of Boyd's hand and fell to the ground in front of Watkins, nearly being picked off on a dive from Antonio Allen. Gilmore picked himself up and pumped his fist as he resumed his spot in the alignment.
Tone set, indeed.
The aftermath: Clemson went three-and-out, USC took a 10-0 lead when Connor Shaw bombed a 49-yard touchdown right into Bruce Ellington's breadbasket and while the Tigers later tied the game at 10, the Gamecocks had sent a message to Boyd - the gimmicks and quick-strike offense weren't going to work that night. USC outscored Clemson 24-3 after the Tigers tied it, sacking Boyd five times and collecting one interception.