Tigers beat Gamecocks for 5 times in a row for the first time since the 1934-'40 era
For the first time in 78 years, Clemson defeated rival South Carolina five years in a row. The Tigers won their fifth straight over the Gamecocks with a 56-35 victory at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.
With the win, Clemson finished the regular season 12-0 for just the second time in school history and are 12-0 for just the third time ever, joining the 1981 and 2015 teams.
“I’m so proud of our team. It’s so hard to go 12-0. It’s only the third time ever that’s been done here,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Also, what an amazing accomplishment for this team to achieve something that hasn’t been done in my lifetime by beating South Carolina five times in a row.”
However, getting their fifth straight win over the Gamecocks (6-4) was not as easy as it had been in the previous four years.
Holding on to a 28-21 halftime lead, second-ranked Clemson scored on each of its first three possessions of the second half to pull away from the pesky Gamecocks. USC’s was a 26.5 underdog coming into the game, but it fought tooth-and-nail with the Tigers for the first 30 minutes. It was mostly do to the performance of quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns.
“Give South Carolina credit for making plays and continuing to compete,” Swinney said. “At the end of the day, our team was too strong across the board. I take my hat off to my players and staff to win a rivalry game by three touchdowns.”
Though Clemson’s defense struggled for the first time this season, the offense had their back behind the passing of Trevor Lawrence and the running of Travis Etienne. Going up against a depleted South Carolina defense, the Tigers racked up a season-high 744 total yards, the third most in Clemson history.
Lawrence completed 27-of-36 passes for career-high 393 yards and one touchdown. Etienne ran for 150 yards and scored two touchdowns. His 2-yard score in the third quarter allowed him to set Clemson’s single-season rushing touchdown mark at 18. He also had a 7-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds to play.
Clemson finished the game with 351 rushing yards and 393 passing yards. Adam Choice, who ran for 56 yards, scored three touchdowns in his last game in Death Valley. Tavien Feaster, who rushed for 63 yards, ran for a touchdown as well as the Tigers set the single-season mark for rushing touchdowns with 41.
While the offense was rolling, the Tigers had their worst performance all season on defense, yielding a season-high in points (35) and yards (600).
Bentley lit the Tigers up in the first 30 minutes, throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-29 passing.
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. Bentley also had touchdown passes of 9 and 32 yards to Samuel and 20 yards to Shi Smith.
Samuel had 10 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns, while Smith caught 9 passes for 109 yards.
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 first half. USC’s 21 points were the most allowed by the Clemson in the first half this year.
Lawrence used his arms and his legs in the first half as Clemson scored on each of its first four possessions to start the game. 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 in the opening half, including 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.
Higgins finished the game with six catches for 142 yards.
However, Bentley played the game of his life. He led the Gamecocks on an opening scoring drive of 75 yards, which he capped with a 9-yard pass to Samuel. It was the first touchdown Clemson had allowed all season in the first quarter.
After Clemson took a 21-7 lead on Christian Wilkins’ one-yard run, Bentley found Pollard for a 67-yard score.
Choice then scored on a 2-yard run to give Clemson a brief 28-14 lead 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.
The Tigers hope to clean things up next Saturday when they go for their fourth ACC Championship in a row, as they take on Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.