This is the weekend that Clemson and South Carolina fans look forward to all year. The Gamecocks came into Death Valley with the idea of playing spoiler to The Tigers’ quest for a college football playoff spot, but it quickly became clear that USC couldn’t beat the Tigers, and the Tigers weren’t going to beat themselves. Clemson came away with an impressive 56-7 win, giving Clemson fans a third straight off-season to rub it into Gamecock fans. Will Muschamp has done a good job in his first year, but Clemson is clearly on a different level than USC at the moment.
The Tigers clearly came ready to play in the first half. The Gamecocks were simply outmatched in every aspect of the game. If you want to know how it went for USC, their offense didn’t even get into Clemson territory until one minute left in the half. The Tigers then took over with 47 seconds left, drove down the field and scored. Yeah, that’s pretty much how the whole night went.
USC received the opening kickoff but the Tiger defense forced a 3-and-out. Clemson had a good drive, but couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-10, forcing a field goal attempt. The Gamecocks blocked it, but Jadar Johnson got an interception for the Tigers on the very next play. Mike Williams got into the end zone on a 34-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 7-0.
On the next Gamecock series, they tried the inside shovel pass that Pitt had executed so well against the Tiger defense, but big Dexter Lawrence made a loud and clear statement that it wasn’t going to pay dividends for USC and they never ran it again. The Gamecocks were again forced into a 3-and-out. Wayne Gallman was running like a beast in the first half, and you could tell he had fresh legs for this late in the season. He carried the Tiger offense down the field on a good drive that saw a great effort by Williams to put the ball into the end zone. The Tiger defense responded with another apparent 3-and-out, but USC ran a fake punt. The Tigers were not fooled in the slightest and stuffed it.
C.J. Fuller came in to give Gallman a breather and ran very well. Deshaun Watson hit Jordan Leggett on an 11-yard touchdown to put Clemson up 21-0. The Tiger defense then smothered the Gamecock offense on the next possession with a sack on 3rd down. Gallman came back in on the ensuing Clemson drive and showed great patience and powerful running. The Tigers should have scored on a long pass to Deon Cain, but the ball hit his facemask and bounced away, forcing the Tigers to punt. The Gamecock offense did get a first down on the next drive but the Tiger defense gave them nothing else and they had to punt.
On the next drive, Leggett had a nice catch for 16 yards, and on the next play Watson looked for him again. This time the ball bounced off his hands and a USC defender made a great effort to get the interception. The Tiger defense again forced the Gamecocks to punt and Artavis Scott had a good punt return. Gallman again moved the Tigers down the field and put the ball into the end zone with a nice 8-yard run on a traditional option play. I’m sure that put a grin on Coach Ford’s face. The Tigers were up 28-0 and kicked off. USC managed to finally get into Clemson territory but the Tiger defense again forced a punt.
With 47 seconds left and up 28-0, most teams would have just run up the middle and headed into the locker room, but the Tigers clearly wanted to work on their two-minute offense. It was clicking for the Tigers as they moved down the field, effectively using the sidelines to manage the clock. Williams made another great effort a slant pass to get into the end zone and make the score 35-0 at the half.
Things didn’t get any better for the Gamecocks in the second half. Clemson got the ball to start the half and drove down the field behind good running by Gallman and Fuller. I noted, in contrast to last week, that the offensive line was playing to the whistle, and the results showed why that is important. Fuller then executed a nice over-the-shoulder catch of a perfectly thrown ball by Watson to make the score 42-0. USC responded with a scoring drive on a halfback pass. It was the time they were able to put points on the board.
The Tigers offense then had another good drive, and Cain had a 34-yard catch on third down to keep it alive. Scott out-battled a USC defender for a touchdown catch to put the Tigers up 49-7. On the next USC drive, Ben Boulware had a strip sack and probably thought he had a score but couldn’t pick the ball up. USC recovered it but their drive, like so many on the night, couldn’t generate much yardage. The Tigers then had a good drive behind some strong running by freshman Tavien Feaster, but the drive stalled and the Tigers punted the ball away.
USC changed quarterbacks and put together their best drive of the night, but the second team Tiger defenders managed to keep the Gamecocks at bay and forced the ball over on downs. The Tigers’ second/third string offense then put together a good drive, punctuated by a 1-yd touchdown run by Kelly Bryant. That was the end of the scoring, and the game ended with the score 56-7.
In a classy move, Head Coach Dabo Swinney allowed the offensive and defensive starters to take a bow before the appreciative crowd in Death Valley. Many of them have now played their final game on their home field.
Next up the Tigers continue their quest for a playoff spot by taking on Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game. As always, STS will have complete coverage of the thrashing of the Gamecocks, and previews of the matchup with the Hokies. Check back with us for those features, and give us your thoughts on tonight’s game in the comments below.