By Will Vandervort / Photo by Kevin Vandervort.
Out with the old and in with the new. That’s what Clemson’s 35-17 victory over archrival South Carolina on Saturday was all about.
The Tigers’ ended USC’s five-year stranglehold on the rivalry while also ushering in maybe a sign of things to come in the nation’s second oldest continuous rivalry. While Clemson’s senior-laden defense held the Gamecocks to a season low in points, rushing yards and total yards it was the future stars on offense that stole the show.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson—torn ACL and all—completed 14 of 19 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for two more scores. Running back Wayne Gallman rushed for a career-high 191 yards and touchdown, while wide receiver Artavis Scott caught seven passes for 185 yards and scored two touchdowns.
It marked the first time in Clemson history the Tigers had a 250-yard passer, 180-yard rusher and a 180-yard receiver in the same game.
“Oh by the way, they are all freshmen,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m really proud of those guys.”
Watson helped engineer an offense that has struggled the last six weeks to 491 total yards despite playing on a hobbled left knee that will require surgery after the bowl game.
“I was not thinking about me or this or that, I was just making sure I was healthy before getting back out there,” Watson said. “It’s a mentality. I wanted to be out there. I wanted to help my teammates out. I knew I was not hundred percent, but I went out there and fought.”
Gallman averaged 7.1 yards per carry, while his 191 yards were the most by a Clemson running back against the Gamecocks since Ken Callicutt rushed for 197 yards in 1974. It was third time in the last five games he eclipsed the century mark.
“Coach Swinney has told me a lot of times this season that I’m not a freshman anymore,” said Gallman, who had a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. “He tells me not to play like a freshman so I take that mindset into the game. I just have to help the team out.”
Scott is helping by setting records. The freshman from Oldsmar, Fla., caught touchdown passes of 53 and 70 yards, while his 185 receiving yards set a new record for receiving yards in a game by a freshman and by any wide receiver at Memorial Stadium for that matter.
He also broke Rod Gardner’s record for receiving yards in a game against South Carolina. Gardner had 138 yards against the Gamecocks in 1999.
“Coach (Chad Morris) called my number and I just took advantage of it,” Scott said. “He puts us in the right position to make plays and when you want to be that playmaker, you have to do it.”
At different times in the game, all three freshmen did it.
First it was Scott as he took a jet sweep-pass—the same one that went for 26 yards on the Tigers’ opening possession—and cut it up field for a 53-yard touchdown which allowed the Tigers to tie the game, at seven, with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
“We did not know if that was going to work to be honest with you, but when Coach Morris finds a weakness, he just attacks it,” Scott said.
Following a South Carolina turnover in the second quarter, it was Gallman’s turn. He took a handoff and raced 31 yards down the left sideline to the USC five. On the next play, he went left end on an option pitch from Watson and out ran a Gamecock defender to the end zone for a 14-7 lead with 11:14 to play in the first half.
Watson extended the lead to 21-7 on Clemson’s next possession as he first scrambled for a nine-yard gain to the one yard line, setting up his own one-yard score on a quarterback sneak on the next play.
The second half was more of the same. Scott took a shovel pass from Watson late in the third quarter and took it up the near side of the field for a 70-yard touchdown that extended the Tigers’ lead to 28-10. Following a South Carolina touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Gallman ran off the left side for 32 and 27 yards, setting up Watson’s one-yard sneak with 2:35 left in the game that put the game away for good.
“Just give us the ball and we will make something good happen,” Watson said. “Wayne is getting better each week and is running hard and with (Scott) it is about getting the ball to him and letting him make plays. That is something we have all talked about and it is building our confidence.
“Hopefully, it will continue in the future.”