After watching South Carolina on film earlier this week, Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams said the team felt it would have an opportunity to dominate its rivals when Saturday rolled around.
And on Saturday night in his final game in Death Valley, Williams helped make sure that happened.
Williams caught half of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s six touchdown passes — all three coming before halftime — as the fourth-ranked Tigers raced to a 35-point first-half lead en route to a dominant 56-7 win over the Gamecocks.
It was Clemson’s third straight victory over South Carolina, and the 49-point margin of victory marks the largest ever by an ACC school over an SEC school.
Meanwhile, Williams became the first Tiger in the history of the rivalry series to record three touchdown receptions. He also tied the Clemson single-game record for receiving touchdowns, becoming just the fifth different player with three receiving touchdowns in a game.
“That was what we were preaching the whole week. We just wanted to go out there and dominate this group,” Williams said after the game. “We felt like, watching them on film, we had the opportunity to go out there and put up those type of numbers, and that’s what we did.”
Williams finished with six receptions for 100 yards, all in the first half.
It was his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season, and the most receiving yards against by a Clemson player against South Carolina since Artavis Scott had 184 in 2014.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Williams, Watson and other offensive players in their final year at Clemson were sent onto the field for a curtain call by head coach Dabo Swinney before he called a timeout.
Williams, a junior who plans to declare for the NFL Draft after the season, was emotional as he walked off the field to the roar of a crowd who celebrated what he and the others have done during their time in Clemson’s program.
“It was just kind of crazy,” Williams said. “I feel like yesterday I was a freshman, and now I’m leaving. So, it was a special moment.”
Williams’ first touchdown catch was part of a momentum-swinging series of events early in the game.
After Clemson’s first possession of the contest ended in a blocked field goal attempt by Greg Huegel, Clemson safety Jadar Johnson picked off a pass from freshman quarterback Jake Bentley on the next play.
Three plays later, Williams exploited an opportunity in man coverage against South Carolina corner Jamarcus King, hauling in a spectacular 34-yard pass from Watson in the end zone for Clemson’s first score.
“I look forward to one on one,” Williams said. “I feel like if a team is going to play me one on one, I feel like they’re disrespecting me. So, to get a one-on-one opportunity, I just had to go out there and win that.”
After that, Williams’ willpower took over.
Williams scored another touchdown later in the first quarter before adding his third score with eight seconds left before halftime to give the Tigers a 35-0 lead.
On both touchdowns, Williams caught a pass short of the goal line and fought through multiple South Carolina defenders on his way to the end zone.
“I was just focused on the end zone, trying to get in the end zone,” Williams said.
Overall, Williams upped his season total to 10 touchdowns. The native of Vance, S.C., is now tied with former receiver Derrick Hamilton for the fifth-most receiving touchdowns in a single season in Clemson history.
In addition, Williams’ 10 receiving touchdowns are the most by a Tiger in one season since Sammy Watkins had 12 in 2013, and his 19 career touchdown receptions moved him into sole possession of fourth place on the Clemson career list. Williams needs just one touchdown reception to tie Aaron Kelly for third place.
After Saturday’s game, Williams finished the regular season with 79 catches for 1,114 yards, the fourth most receiving yards in program history. He needs only 105 more to tie Watkins, who totaled 1,219 yards in 2011.
“Man, he’s special,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jeff Scott said of Williams. “Just the will that he has as a senior being out here in his last game in Death Valley, being able to go get it done. Mike’s a special player, a special talent, extremely hard worker, very unselfish.
“Mike’s just been very unselfish, and he came up big tonight when we needed him the most.”
Altogether, Clemson’s offense amassed 622 total yards of offense and 40 first downs, all-time records for Clemson against South Carolina and the 11th most yards in Clemson history.
With the victory, Clemson has won 11 games for the second straight season and the fourth time in five years after reaching 11 wins just twice prior to 2012.
A year ago, Williams wasn’t able to play against the Gamecocks after suffering a fractured neck in the season opener that forced him to miss the rest of the year.
And after the way Clemson’s previous home game against Pittsburgh went, Williams had more than enough motivation to make his final game in Death Valley one of the most memorable of his career.
“The mentality I always have is to go out there and dominate the man in front of me,” Williams said. “That’s my mentality, and everything went good.”