By Will Vandervort.
When safety Robert Smith got up Saturday morning, he had a good feeling. He had a feeling that Saturday was the day he and the rest of the Clemson Tigers were going to end their five-game losing streak to South Carolina.
He was right. Thanks to Smith and the rest of the Clemson defense, the 21st-ranked Tigers knocked off USC with a 35-17 victory in Death Valley. It was Clemson’s first win over the Gamecocks since 2008.
“I told the guys when I closed my eyes last night that the first thing that I saw was 38-10,” Smith said. “I thought that was going to come true for a while, but we will take what we have. This was great.
“This is our senior year, our last time in Death Valley, we ended the five-game losing streak and started our own.”
The victory over the Gamecocks marked the 41st of the senior classes’ career, the most wins ever by a Clemson class. Those 41 victories include wins over Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and now archrival South Carolina.
“What an incredible group,” Swinney said. “They got their 41st win today to become the winningest class ever at Clemson – that is special. They surpassed that 1990 class and ironically they became the winningest class by beating South Carolina.”
In that 1990 game, Clemson was led by running back Ronald Williams. On Saturday, his son DeShawn Williams was leading a defense that held the Gamecocks 339 yards – 122 yards below their season average.
“This was for all of us, and I cannot ask for more than that,” Williams said afterwards.
Playing in his last game in Death Valley, Williams—a Clemson native who grew up just down the road and went to nearby Daniel High School—finished the day with five tackles, two tackles for loss, including a sack.
“I think I have had better games before, maybe not stat wise, but I have had dominant performances before,” Williams said. “Today, it just showed up. Someone had to make some plays and it just turned out that I was there to make some plays.”
Williams got help from some of the other seniors on defense, too.
Defensive end Vic Beasley had another monstrous game as he recorded five tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and forced fumble. Defensive back Garry Peters led the Tigers with seven tackles and broke up a pass in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play for South Carolina.
Linebacker Tony Steward had six tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Then there was Smith, who had five tackles from his safety position.
“Those guys played great,” Swinney said. “We stopped them on the goal line and in short yardage. It was a great game for those guys. It was a tremendous performance for everyone.”
Clemson held the Gamecocks to a season-low 63 yards rushing, a big reason why the Tigers were able to end the streak.
“We finally got to check that box,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We have won openers, we have won the ACC Championship and we have won bowl games and now we have finally won the state championship.
“This is definitely gratifying and satisfying to go out with a win over South Carolina.”
And in the end they solidified their legacy at Clemson as a senior class and as a defense.
“This was one of the more explosive offenses in the country and we performed really well,” Jarrett said. “There is no arguing it. We can tell by the way we play on film and with the intensity we play with how good of a defense we are.”