Several times this year the Clemson defense has stepped up when the offense struggled to garner momentum early in games, but Saturday night was a different story.
To the surprise of many the second-ranked Tigers found themselves in a shootout with rival South Carolina, as they outlasted the visitors from Columbia, 56-35.
Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley passed for 510 yards and five touchdowns. The 510 yards were the most allowed by a Tiger defense in the South Carolina rivalry and the second most in Clemson history. The five touchdowns tied for the most allowed in the USC rivalry.
Thankfully for Brent Venables and company the offense delivered with a season-high 744 total yards, mounting a balanced attack with 351 yards on the ground and 393 yards passing.
After falling behind 7-0. the Tigers fought and pulled away in the second half.
Clemson co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliot were proud of the way their offense responded in a game that played out in a way not many expected.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence may not have expected the game to be as much of a shootout either, but he knew his offense was prepared to win no matter the situation because of their preparation and coaching.
“I didn’t know going into it, but I knew what we prepared for. We wanted to go out and win the game and that’s what we did,” Lawrence said. “As an offense we saw everything really clean had great preparation and just knew what they were going to do.”
Scott knew at some point this season his unit would have to bear the load to achieve the outcome they wanted against South Carolina.
“To be a great team you have to be great on both sides. There is no doubt the defense has helped us out plenty of times,” Scott said. “We knew when you play this many games there would be opportunities they would lean on us a little bit.”
After entering the locker room at halftime on top 28-21, the Clemson offense had to respond, and it did. The Tigers received to start the second half and marched on a 10-play 75-yard drive, culminating in a two-yard Travis Etienne touchdown for a 35-21 lead.
Clemson scored 14 points in each quarter against the Gamecocks, rendering Bentley’s remarkable game ineffective.
Tony Elliot knows championship teams battle and fight to win games no matter what the circumstances.
“It is a team game and great teams find a way to win. Tonight, we needed to score some points, that’s our job and that’s what we were focused on,” Elliot said. “The defense will bounce back, but tonight we had to score points and that’s what we do.”
The co-coordinators feel confident moving into the postseason as the Tigers prepare for their fourth consecutive ACC Championship Game in Charlotte against Pittsburgh next Saturday.
Clemson feels as if it is in a rhythm and Scott believes beating the Gamecocks for the fifth straight season increased its confidence.
“Championship teams play their best ball at the end of the year and even though we have done a lot of good things offensively we felt like there was another level we could go to,” Scott said. “That was the challenge tonight, to focus in on finishing the regular season, there is no doubt what we did tonight will increase our confidence moving forward.”