Instant Replay: No. 2 Clemson 56, South Carolina 35
Second-ranked Clemson defeated South Carolina, 56-35, on Saturday night at Death Valley. The Tigers finished the regular season with a 12-0 record, while the Gamecocks fell to 6-5.
Here’s a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:
The first half was a high-scoring affair that saw the two teams amass a combined 49 points, 709 total yards and 34 first downs. Clemson led by a score of 28-21 at halftime after scoring on each of its first four possessions. Adam Choice ran for two short touchdowns for the Tigers (1 and 2 yards), and Trevor Lawrence threw an accurate dart to Tee Higgins for a 22-yard score in the first quarter. Christian Wilkins also found the end zone out of the “Fridge Package” formation, scoring on a 1-yard toss play in the second frame.
South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Jake Bentley on South Carolina’s first possession to give the Gamecocks what would end up being their only lead of the game at 7-0 less than five minutes in. In the second quarter, Bentley hooked up with Kiel Pollard and Samuel for long touchdown passes of 67 and 75 yards, respectively.
The Tigers began the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that Travis Etienne capped with a 2-yard touchdown run to extend Clemson’s lead to 35-21. After a sack by Christian Wilkins helped Clemson’s defense force South Carolina to punt, the Tigers scored again on a 13-yard run by Tavien Feaster that blew the game open and made the score 42-21 midway through the third quarter.
The Gamecocks put together a 15-play, 73-yard drive on their ensuing possession but came away with no points when they failed to convert on fourth-and-goal from Clemson’s 2-yard line. The Tigers then went on an 11-play, 98-yard touchdown drive, with Choice scoring his third touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run to make it a 49-21 game early in the fourth quarter.
Bentley threw two more touchdown passes of 32 and 20 yards to Samuel and Shi Smith, respectively, in the fourth quarter. Etienne rushed for a 7-yard touchdown with 39 seconds remaining to provide the final score.
What went right?
Clemson’s offense was in a rhythm and firing on all cylinders all night long. The Tigers’ balanced attack compiled 351 rushing yards and 393 passing yards for a total of 744 yards. Clemson accumulated 38 first downs, went 8-of-13 on third down and 2-of-2 on fourth down while running 92 plays and averaging 8.1 yards per play. The Tigers scored touchdowns on eight of their 12 possessions and the offensive line did not allow a sack.
Lawrence was sharp and finished the game with an efficient stat line (27-of-36, 393 yards, one touchdown). Etienne had a game-high 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries, while Higgins paced the receiving corps with six catches for 142 yards and a score.
What went wrong?
Clemson’s defense allowed 600 total yards, 29 first downs and a season-high 35 points. The secondary was especially suspect, giving up five touchdown passes including passes of 75, 67, 32 and 20 yards. The Gamecocks averaged 8.0 yards per play and went 7-of-14 on third down. Bentley went 32-of-50 passing for 510 yards and the five touchdown throws, though he was intercepted once by Clemson linebacker J.D. Davis. Samuel hauled in 10 receptions for a game-high 210 yards and three scores.
Also, Clemson kicker Greg Huegel missed a 39-yard field goal, wide receiver Justyn Ross dropped a would-be touchdown pass late in the first half, Clemson lost a fumble on an attempted handoff late in the game and offensive lineman John Simpson had to leave the game in the third quarter due to injury.
Down by seven points, South Carolina had the ball on Clemson’s 2-yard line early in the second quarter, facing a fourth down. Instead of kicking a field goal, the Gamecocks decided to go for it but could not convert as Bentley failed to connect with Bryan Edwards in the end zone.
The Tigers took advantage of the failed fourth-down attempt, marching 97 yards down the field on 12 plays in 4:49. Clemson also went for it on fourth-and-goal, but unlike the Gamecocks the Tigers were able to convert on a 1-yard touchdown run by Wilkins that put Clemson up 21-7 midway through the second quarter. South Carolina’s deficit would not get slimmer than seven points the rest of the way.