Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said he kind of blacked out when he got in the huddle just after warm ups prior to Saturday’s 56-7 rout of rival South Carolina.
With his team huddled around him, Boulware appeared to be giving a fiery speech to get his teammates pumped up for their annual rivalry game against the Gamecocks. And though he does not really remember what he said, it worked.
The Tigers (11-1) just did not beat South Carolina, it obliterated the Gamecocks. Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for a record-tying six touchdown passes, while the offense racked up 622 yards overall.
On defense, Boulware and company limited the Gamecocks to a season-low 218 total yards, including just 52 in the first half.
“It was super fun. To kind of go out there and dominate your little brother, like they were saying during the week, to dominate them in all phases for all four quarters was super fun,” Boulware said.
South Carolina (6-6) did not manage a first down until the 12:28 mark of the second quarter, its 17th play of the game. USC had just three first downs in the first half, and finished the game with 14.
After the game, Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins said Boulware got the entire team fired up with his speech.
“He was fired up. He was emotional,” the senior said. “It’s our last game in the Valley. He was talking for the seniors. He was just saying to dominate and give it everything you got. I felt like we did that today. We went out there with a chip on our shoulder.
“They said some stuff in the media that did not sit right with us. We showed them.”
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley, who burned a redshirt halfway through the season and turned the offense around, was rattled all night. Coming into the game, Bentley had completed better than 66 percent of his passes. He had thrown six touchdown passes to just one interception in his first five games as the starter.
However, against Clemson, he struggled. He completed just 7-of-17 passes for 41 yards and was intercepted on the second possession of the game. The Tigers sacked him twice and hurried him all night. He was eventually pulled for fellow freshman Brandon McIlwain in the third quarter.
“I just knew from watching film throughout the week we were going to dominate them,” Boulware said. “We were hearing their quarterback was the savior of the world. They got a Heisman at every position, but that is not what it is.
“I don’t have to be nice to them anymore. I don’t have to play them again. We knew from Day One we were going to dominate and that is exactly what we did.”
Clemson, who has now won three straight over USC, held the Gamecocks to a season-low 107 passing yards. It is the fewest by the Gamecocks against the Tigers since 2004, when Clemson held them to 197 yards of total offense.
The seven points tied a season-low for USC as well, and was the lowest output against the Tigers since the 2004 game.
At times, Clemson made it look easy on Saturday.
“We were ready to play. I did not think it was going to be that easy, but we were just ready to play,” Watkins said.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables knew his defense could dominate, and he was thrilled to see it was his senior linebacker leading the way.
“There is not a better guy to get us ready emotionally,” Venables said. “Everybody knows the investment Boulware has in this program and his own personal performances. This being his last game in Death Valley, I was really nervous for him and for us because he is just an emotional guy. But he did a terrific job of challenging that emotion into the right place and into his preparation, executing and leading and checking and things of that nature.
“I think that was great. Guys feed off of that passion. Emotion is a great equalizer in this game and you can’t win by being rah-rah, but I really think there was a sense of purpose to it that transcended through the rest of the defense.”