Tigers hold two-score lead over Gamecocks after wild first half

Tigers hold two-score lead over Gamecocks after wild first half

Football

Tigers hold two-score lead over Gamecocks after wild first half

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No. 8 Clemson took a two-score lead into the locker room after a wild first half of today’s game against South Carolina at Death Valley.

A few big plays – and a couple of scores – by Clemson’s defense helped the eighth-ranked Tigers take a 23-14, halftime lead over the Gamecocks.

The rivalry showdown featured a slew of momentum swings, including quite the turn of events in the first quarter.

Following a near pick-six on Clemson’s first possession, South Carolina threw a pick-six on its next offensive play.

Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. returned quarterback Spencer Rattler’s interception 35 yards for a touchdown less than three minutes into the first quarter, giving the Tigers an early 7-0 lead.

Clemson (10-1, 8-0 ACC) jumped out to a 14-0 lead with an eight-play, 90-yard touchdown drive on its second possession. After handing the ball off to running back Will Shipley and then turning into his lead blocker on a 47-yard run, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei finished off the drive by weaving through defenders for a 9-yard touchdown run – his third straight game with a rushing touchdown and seventh overall this season.

South Carolina (7-4, 4-4 SEC) started to get some momentum toward the end of the first quarter and was able to cut its deficit to 14-7 with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Rattler to Antwane Wells Jr. after the Gamecocks elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal early in the second quarter.

South Carolina’s score – its first touchdown since the fourth quarter of the 2018 meeting between the two teams – was set up by an outstanding 32-yard, one-handed grab by tight end Nate Adkins to Clemson’s 19-yard line. The Gamecocks’ eight-play, 51-yard scoring drive began at their own 49-yard line thanks in part to a 42-yard punt from Kai Kroeger that pinned the Tigers at their own 3 before they were forced to punt it back to South Carolina.

Clemson’s defense got its second score of the first half after Aidan Swanson’s 52-yard punt pinned the Gamecocks’ offense at its own 2-yard line. On the first play of the possession, Rattler was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety – the second in as many games for Clemson’s defense — that gave the Tigers a 16-7 lead with 10:05 left before halftime.

The Tigers got the ball back thanks to the safety, but trickeration on the return – which saw Shipley hand the ball off to Phil Mafah in a scrum huddle — ended with Mafah fumbling the ball back to South Carolina.

South Carolina capitalized on the turnover, with Rattler capping a four-play, 37-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run that cut the Gamecocks’ deficit to 16-14 at the 8:24 mark of the second quarter.

Clemson answered right back, though, to regain a two-score lead. Uiagalelei hooked up with freshman receiver Antonio Williams for an 11-yard touchdown that made the score 23-14 at the 6:14 mark. The score that capped a five-play, 75-yard drive was set up by Beaux Collins’ 59-yard catch and run, the longest play of his career.

South Carolina went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 34 on its next possession, and that decision paid off as Rattler hit Juju McDowell for a 65-yard completion — the longest of Rattler’s career — that moved the ball to the Clemson 1. However, two plays later, Rattler’s pass was picked off by safety RJ Mickens in the end zone.

The two teams combined for 477 yards of offense in the first half. South Carolina passed for 207, while Clemson rushed for 164.

Uiagalelei went 5-of-13 passing for 86 yards and a touchdown. Shipley had 99 yards rushing on nine carries, becoming the 23rd Clemson football player to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a single season.

Clemson will get the ball to start the second half.

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