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Making the Grade: No. 4 Clemson 56, South Carolina 7

Nov 26, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42) celebrates with defensive end Clelin Ferrell (99) during the first quarter at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Fourth-ranked Clemson defeated South Carolina 56-7 on Saturday night in Memorial Stadium as the Tigers rolled up 622 yards while holding the Gamecocks to 218.

The Clemson Insider graded each position group’s performance in the regular season finale.

Quarterbacks: A+

I mean, my gosh. What else is Deshaun Watson supposed to do? Sure, he threw an interception, but that throw wasn’t terrible. He completed 26 of his 32 passes for 347 yards and a rivalry-record six touchdowns. Watson was so good through the air that Clemson really didn’t even need him to run much in this one. He had completion streaks of six and nine passes, respectively. His home finale was one of the best games of his career. In his stead, Nick Schuessler was a perfect 3-for-3 for 25 yards and ran for a key first down on a scoring drive, and Kelly Bryant capped that drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

Running Backs: A+

Wayne Gallman loves playing against South Carolina. He surpassed 100 rushing yards in all three meetings with the Gamecocks. On Saturday, he led the Tigers with 19 carries and 112 yards on the ground. It wasn’t just Gallman, though. Depth that has been missing for much of the past two seasons rose to the surface as the Tigers built a gargantuan lead. CJ Fuller ran for 47 yards and scored his first career receiving touchdown on a wheel route. Tavien Feaster had a nice day with six carries for 36 yards. Even Tyshon Dye finished a couple of runs with authority.

Wide Receivers: A

It’s hard to find much fault with this group, but there were a couple of missed opportunities. Deon Cain dropped a sure touchdown on Clemson’s sideline, and he gave a little shove to a cornerback that got him flagged for offensive pass interference on another one. Mike Williams also almost had a fourth touchdown to go along with his other three. Besides those plays, Clemson’s receivers enjoyed successful days all around. Williams reached 100 yards and threw defenders around like rag dolls all night long. Artavis Scott had eight catches and continued his trend of playing well against the Gamecocks at home. A number of young players also made the stat sheet as the Tigers spread the wealth in the second half.

Tight Ends: B+

Watson’s only interception was a semi-catchable throw to Jordan Leggett, so that downgrades this position group a little bit. Still, it’s hard to be too judgmental after a dominant performance. Leggett caught three of his five targets for 58 yards and an 11-yard touchdown as a part of the Tigers’ offensive flurry in the first half. Columbia native Cannon Smith also caught a pass in the fourth quarter.

Offensive Line: A

Clemson’s front did its job well on Saturday night. It paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and it kept Clemson’s quarterbacks upright for almost the entire game—a game in which the Tigers ran 89 plays. Without Jake Fruhmorgen at right tackle once again, that side of the line survived with freshman Sean Pollard filling in his slot. Communication wasn’t an issue, and the two or three missed assignments that led to tackles for loss could have easily been attributed to backs and tight ends.

Defensive Line: A

This group controlled the game from start to finish. South Carolina barely cracked 100 yards both rushing and passing. The Tigers’ front four was led by Dexter Lawrence, who piled up five tackles and a sack. Carlos Watkins added a tackle for loss, and Both Christian Wilkins and Albert Huggins had a quarterback pressure. Perhaps the most impactful contribution from this crew on the stat sheet was knocking down or tipping passes at the line of scrimmage. The group combined for four PBUs, including a pair from Wilkins.

Linebackers: A+

Ben Boulware was the best player in this group. Every time he went downhill, he made something disruptive happen. He finished with team highs in tackles (7), tackles for loss (2.5), sacks (2), and he was the only player who forced a fumble in Saturday’s game. He also completely obliterated a blocking back on at least one occasion. It was a fitting send-off for him. Kendall Joseph added five tackles in the game, and several of the reserves made a ton of plays. The plays that weren’t made made this an A+ performance. The Gamecocks weren’t able to stress the Tigers’ second level like several other teams have been this season.

Defensive Backs: A+

The Tigers’ secondary was solid in the game. Even given the pressure South Carolina’s quarterbacks were under, it speaks volumes that the Gamecocks completed less than half of their passes as a team. Jadar Johnson picked off his fifth pass of the season, as his commanding team lead in that category grows. Mark Fields almost had a pick-six on a pass that was caught on a fourth down, but he made the tackle and forced the turnover on downs. Van Smith and Tanner Muse combined for 11 tackles in Saturday’s contest. Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond each broke up a pass for the Tigers.

Special Teams: B

Greg Huegel’s field goal that was blocked early in the game got lost in the shuffle, but it was a potential early turning point in the Gamecocks’ favor. It appeared that Huegel’s kick had a low trajectory, and it was only from 39 yards out, so that one is on him. Otherwise, this wasn’t a game that particularly featured special teams. Clemson held Deebo Samuel—a dangerous kick returner—to 26 yards per kick return. Besides that, Scott’s 28-yard punt return in the first half gave Clemson a short field. It was another pivotal point in the action.

Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

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