While Clemson’s offense was moving up and down the field in the first half Saturday, the defense decided to take it off.
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley lit the Tigers up in the first 30 minutes, throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-29 passing as second-ranked Clemson clings to a 28-21 halftime lead.
Clemson had blown coverages in the secondary over-and-over again, giving up touchdowns of 67 and 75 yards to Kiel Pollard and Deebo Samuel.
Four times the Tigers’ defense has allowed 300 or more yards this season and the Gamecocks had that with 4:37 to play in the half. USC’s 21 points were the most allowed by the Clemson in the first half this year.
However, it was the defense that changed the momentum of the second quarter. After South Carolina’s defense finally stopped Clemson and forced a punt, linebacker J.D. Davis stepped in front of a Bentley pass and returned it to the USC 40.
But the Tigers failed to capitalize on the turnover. Amari Rodgers was called for an offensive pass interference that could went for six and then freshman Justyn Ross dropped a sure touchdown on a post where he was wide open.
Trevor Lawrence used his arms and his legs in the first half as Clemson scored on each of its first four possessions. The Tigers scored on touchdown drives of 75, 95, 97 and 70 yards.
Lawrence completed 16-of-22 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown, a 22-yard dart to Tee Higgins. That gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead at the time with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.
However, Lawrence continued to be outplayed by Bentley, who played the half of his life. Bentley led the Gamecocks on an opening scoring drive of 75 yards, which he capped with a 9-yard pass to Samuel.
After Clemson took a 21-7 lead on Christian Wilkins one-yard run, Bentley found Pollard for a 67-yard score.
Adam Choice then scored on a 2-yard run to give Clemson a brief 28-14 because on the next play from scrimmage Bentley found Samuel streaking wide open down the field for a 75-yard touchdown, the longest play allowed by the Clemson defense all year.