Clemson traveled down to Columbia to take on a resurgent South Carolina team in the annual Palmetto Bowl, with playoff implications for the Tigers. With Alabama falling to Auburn and Miami losing to Pitt, the Tigers had a number one ranking in their sights as they took the field at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks took the opening kickoff and started their drive at the 27. USC managed a first down, but the Tiger defense stiffened and forced a punt near midfield. The Tigers took over at the 20 and Ray-Ray McCloud moved the sticks with a first down run to the 31. McCloud had another good run with help from Hunter Renfrow who pancaked the USC edge defender. Clemson then tried to get cute and run a trick play when they should have just kept running the ball right at the Gamecocks. Will Spiers punted and the Tigers downed the ball at the 1-yard line.
USC took over and ran it on first down to get a little breathing room. On second down, USC QB Jake Bentley threw it to Ryan Carter for the pick six and the Tigers were up 7-0. After the kickoff, the Gamecocks took over at the 18. They moved the ball near midfield, but the Tiger defense held again and they punted. Clemson started their possession at the 15. The Tigers started off well, but couldn’t convert a 3rd down with a Kelly Bryant run. The Spiers punt put USC at the 6 yard line.
The Gamecocks pushed out past the 40 but then the Tiger defense forced a punt that went into the end zone for the touchback. Travis Etienne had a good run and a good catch and run to move the ball out near midfield. Tee Higgins converted a 3rd down to moved the ball down inside the Gamecock 30. Gamecock penalties gave the Tigers 1st and goal from the 6. Two Tavien Feaster runs later, and with the Alex Spence extra point kick, Clemson was up 14-0.
After a short kickoff by Spence, USC took over at the 26. The Tiger defense forced a 3-and-out as Clelin Ferrell sacked Bentley on 3rd down. A great punt by USC put the Tigers on their 21. Deon Cain had a first down catch and Renfrow converted a 3rd and 5 to keep the drive moving. On 3rd and 4, Higgins got behind the USC defense and gave the Tigers 1st and goal at the 9. Runs by Bryant and Feaster got the ball to the 4. On 3rd down, Bryant showed great patience rolling out to get the ball to Renfrow in the end zone. Dabo got fired up about something on the play (USC students throwing their baby bottles on the field apparently) and was given a personal foul penalty. Spence missed the extra point and the score was 20-0. Week after week I get a sinking feeling that Clemson’s kicking game (missed FGs/XPs, short kickoffs) is going to end up being a big liability.
Clemson’s defense again forced a 3-and-out as Dexter Lawrence got a 2nd down sack. With about a minute and a half left in the 2nd quarter, the Tigers took over at their 20. They moved out to midfield but ended up punting and USC ran the clock out to end the half.
The Tigers received the 2nd half kickoff and Etienne returned it to the 39. Renfrow then caught a short pass from Bryant and took it 61 yards to the end zone. With only 21 seconds gone in the 2nd half, Clemson was up 27-0. The Gamecocks took over and had a few decent runs but Bentley threw another interception, this time to Trayvon Mullen. The Tigers moved to the Gamecock 32 but ended up with a 4th and 10 that they couldn’t convert. Normally you’d expect a team to try a field goal at that point, but Clemson just doesn’t have a kicker that can make it from 49 yards.
USC got the ball but the Clemson defense got them to 4th and 16, forcing a punt. The Tigers took over at the 31 but didn’t do much after bobbling the 2nd down snap. Fortunately a USC defender committed a personal foul and kept the Tiger drive alive. Etienne had some good runs to move the ball into USC territory. But the Tigers couldn’t convert a 3rd and 9. The lack of a kicking game again made the Tigers go for it again on 4th and 7. This time Bryant converted it, taking it to the USC 16. After a McCloud catch taking it to the 5, Etienne ran it in. The Tigers were up 34-0 with 2:47 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Gamecocks got the ball at their 20 and got 5 yards on first down, but nothing after that. The punt was another good one and the Tigers took over at their 11. With a good balance of runs and passes, Clemson moved out to the 39 as the clock expired on the 3rd quarter. On 3rd down, USC intercepted the ball and ran it to the Clemson 22. The Tiger defense limited the damage to a 40-yard FG that made the score 34-3.
Hunter Johnson came in at QB for the next Tiger drive. Adam Choice had some good runs between the tackles as Clemson moved into Gamecock territory. At the USC 26, the Tigers converted a 4th and 2. A holding penalty got the Tigers into a 3rd and 16. Johnson put too much air on the ball on the throw to the end zone and the Gamecock safety came over to intercept the pass. Against the Tiger second stringers, a few short passes got the Gamecocks into Tiger territory. They scored on a 38-yard Bentley pass to Bryan Edwards. The score was 34-10 with just under 3 minutes left in the game.
Zerrick Cooper led the next Clemson possession at QB and had a nice run to convert a 3rd and 5. That was enough to enable the Tigers to run the clock out.
The Tigers should now be the undisputed #1 team in the country, although Oklahoma fans would probably disagree with that assessment, but their defense is going to be the big liability for them if they make it to the playoff. Next week the Tigers meet a Miami team that will have a lot of incentive to bring their best game. Check with us at STS for previews of that game and reviews of tonight’s demonstration that Clemson (sarcasm alert) wasn’t that much better than USC or even better at all, for the second year in a row. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below,.