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Clemson vs. South Carolina: Tigers Clip the Gamecocks’ Wings for Five in a Row

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Upset-minded USC came into Death Valley and moved the ball well against the Tigers, but Clemson had more firepower in the end.

South Carolina v Clemson
Christian Wilkins has some words of discouragement for USC QB Jake Bentley.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

For the second week in a row, Clemson hosted a night game in Death Valley as South Carolina came to town to take on the #2 Tigers. The Gamecocks were hoping to avoid a 5th straight loss to the Tigers, but it was not to be, despite a good effort on their part.

The opening kickoff by B.T. Potter predictably sailed into the end zone and Carolina started at the 25. The Gamecocks started inauspiciously with a false start and a short gain, but then got a first down on a WR screen. They then connected on a post route for 29 yards down to the Tiger 35. They converted a 3rd & 4 down to the 21. Later, Clelin Ferrell was called for being offside, setting up a 3rd & 2, which they converted. The Tiger defense forced a 3rd & 8 from the 9. The Tigers had great pressure on USC QB Jake Bentley, but he as able to get the pass off to WR Deebo Samuel and he scored. USC led 7-0.

Travis Etienne picked up 3 yards on 1st down and 4 more on 2nd. Hunter Renfrow then said “I’m healthy” with a 21-yard catch and run. Tee Higgins then took it down to the USC 24. On 2nd & 7, Etienne moved the chains, taking it down to the 13. On 2nd & 1 Tavien Feaster took it down inside the 1 to set up 1st & goal. On 2nd down, Feaster punched it in. The game was tied 7-7 with 6:17 left in the 1st quarter. Potter’s kickoff sailed through the end zone. The Tiger defense forced a 3rd & 7 and Bentley hit an open receiver down the middle to move the chains. Then came a 3rd & 8 and Austin Bryant barely got to Bentley before Christian Wilkins did to force the punt. I thought “Here we go again” as a 55-yard punt put the Tiger offense at their own 3 yard line.

South Carolina v Clemson
Austin Bryant celebrates a sack.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Etienne pushed it out to the 11 on 1st down. Trevor Lawrence rolled right and hit Higgins on the sideline for a 1st down at the 18. Justyn Ross took a screen for 26 yards and then Etienne picked up 9. Renfrow and then Feaster moved it down to the Carolina 32. On 3rd & 2, Lawrence ran for 10 yards down to the 22. On 1st down Lawrence couldn’t quite connect with Cannon Smith. On 2nd, he hit Higgins on a post for the score. Will Swinney bobbled the snap on the PAT but managed to get it down in time for Greg Huegel to kick it through. Clemson led 14-7 with just a few seconds left in the 1st quarter. Bentley connected for 17 yards on a quick throw, something USC was clearly committed to doing to counter the Clemson pass rush. USC moved down the field to the Tiger 29 with runs and short passes. Then a nice pass to the RB took it into the red zone. Trayvon Mullen was then called for pass interference and the Gamecocks had 1st & goal at the 3. With an incomplete pass and a stuffed run, the Clemson defense forced 3rd & goal. Bentley tried to hit a receiver in the corner but couldn’t connect. USC went for it on 4th but failed and the Tigers took over on downs.

Feaster pushed it out to the 6 on 1st down. Amari Rodgers to a WR screen out to the 10, setting up 3rd & 3. Higgins made a jumping grab despite being interfered with at the Tiger 37. Lawrence hit Ross to the USC 45. Feaster then busted one up the middle for 16 down to the 29, and then 8 more on 1st down. Rodgers then got enough on a screen to move the chains to the Gamecock 18. Etienne picked up a couple of yards but USC was called for hands to the face. Clemson had 1st & goal from the 8. Etienne pushed it down to the 3. On 2nd down, he made it to the 2. Then the Fridge Package came in but Wilkins couldn’t get to the end zone up the middle. They stayed in and Wilkins did his best Herschel Walker impression leaping into the end zone for the TD. He was called for an unsportsmanlike for doing the Heismann pose and Dabo Swinney gave him a vigorous talking to. Clemson led 21-7.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina v Clemson
Christian Wilkins makes his case.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

USC took the short kickoff out to the 27. The Tigers forced a 3rd & 5 and Bentley escaped the rush and launched a pass to a receiver. Tanner Muse tried to jump the ball and missed. The receiver then went 67 yards for the score. The Tigers were up 21-14. Derion Kendrick took the kickoff out to the 30. Etienne picked up 8 on 1st down and picked up the 1st down on the next play. Lawrence then scrambled for 32 yards down the left sideline to the Gamecock 26. Adam Choice broke through the middle for 26 down to the 2, and then punched it in on the next play. The score was 28-14 Tigers with 4:49 in the half.

South Carolina v Clemson
Adam Choice takes off up the middle.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

USC immediately struck back with a 75-yard score to Samuel after the kickoff. I was beginning to wonder if I was watching a Big 12 game. Clemson’s secondary was showing some cracks. The score was 28-21 as Clemson took over at the 25. Lyn-J Dixon picked up 10 yards and 9 yards on consecutive runs. Kendrick took a screen for 13 yards to move into USC territory. USC forced 3rd & 9 and Lawrence’s screen pass to Ross was incomplete. Will Spiers’ punt went into the end zone to give Carolina the ball on the 20 with under 2 minutes left.

USC was moving the ball when J.D. Davis picked off Bentley and returned it to the USC 33 with 1:07 left. Lawrence hit Rodgers for a score but he was called for pass interference and it seemed like a pretty lame call to me. Passes to Rodgers and Renfrow moved the ball to the USC 25 for 3rd & 2 with 45 seconds left. The Tigers converted it but got to 3rd & 10. Lawrence had Ross open over the middle for a sure score, but the throw was a bit short and Ross couldn’t hang on to it. Greg Huegel missed the FG attempt. With 25 seconds left in the half, the score remained 28-21. The Gamecock offense just took a knee to run the clock out.

Clemson got the ball first in the second half. Etienne opened up with an 8-yard run. On 3rd & 2, he picked 10. On the next play he picked up 9, and a face mask penalty moved it out to the USC 35. A couple of Choice runs moved it to the 27 to set up 3rd & 2. Etienne easily got the 1st down but Mitch Hyatt was called for holding. Renfrow hauled in the throw to convert it. Man, are we going to miss him next year. Etienne picked up 7 to go down to the Carolina 5. On 1st & goal, Etienne punched it in for his 18th TD, setting the Clemson single season record. The Tigers were up 35-21. Samuel returned the kickoff out to the 20. Bentley hit another wide open receiver over the middle for 26 yards. Wilkins got to Bentley for a sack, setting up 3rd & 18. A false start made it 3rd & 23. USC couldn’t convert and punted it back to Clemson for a touchback.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Clemson
Hunter Renfrows pulls in a pass.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Lawrence hit Ross for 15 yards. Feaster got loose for 18 to move into Gamecock territory. Higgins took a catch over the middle for 34 yards down to the 13. Feaster ran it in from there to make it 42-21. Potter put the kickoff into the end zone. USC moved down the field with a good balance of runs and passes. They got to 1st & goal at the 4 and 2 runs up the middle didn’t get anywhere. On 3rd down, the Tiger defense covered a pitch sweep well and got a TFL. On 4th and goal Clemson was called for “disconcerting signals” when Ferrell rolled from an interior position out to end. In 40+ years of playing, coaching, and following football, I have never heard that one.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Clemson
Travis Etienne gains tough yards against the USC defense.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson took over at their 2. Etienne and Kendrick moved the ball out to the 21. Kendrick took a jet sweep for 19 yards out to the 40 to end the 3rd quarter. A Lawrence 6-yard scramble and an Etienne run moved it to the USC 33. Kendrick took a screen and came back across the field to get down to the 21. Two plays later, Choice ran it in from 15 yards out. Clemson was up 49-21. After the touchback, USC started at the 25. They moved the ball well out near midfield and benefited from a terrible pass interference call on Nolan Turner. The Tigers then got USC into 3rd & 7 and they couldn’t convert. On 4th & 7, Bentley had time to throw and hit Samuel over the middle for a TD. The score was 49-28 with 9:10 left in the game. Clemson’s secondary has a lot of work to do next week. USC had many big plays and all of them were a result of the Tiger secondary looking quite confused about who they were supposed to be covering.

South Carolina v Clemson
Tee Higgins gets loose after a catch.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Rodgers took the fair catch on the ensuing kickoff, putting the Clemson offense at the 25. Etienne and Choice only got 2 yards on the first two plays, and on 3rd & 8 Lawrence hit Trevion Thompson for 7. The Tigers punted and the Gamecocks took over at their 29. On 3rd & 10, Albert Huggins got to Bentley, forcing Carolina to punt it back with about 6 minutes left. Etienne picked up 8 on 1st down and Diondre Overton got 22 to move the chains. Dixon then powered his way for 15 yards down to the 20. Then Lawrence and Dixon didn’t get the handoff right and put the ball on the ground. USC recovered at the 26. Their RB got loose up the middle to the Clemson 20 as the Tiger defense appeared to have checked out. USC scored on the next play as Isaiah Simmons got burned on a throw. It was 49-35.

USC tried an onside kick, but the Tigers recovered at their 46. Clemson got to 3rd and 6 from midfield. Lawrence hit Higgins for 27. An incomplete pass and an Etienne run put the Tigers at 3rd & 5. Etienne could only get 2 yards and on 4th down Renfrow picked up 10 with about a minute left. Etienne punched it in from 6 yards out to make the score 56-35 with 39 seconds left. USC moved down the field on a nice effort from Samuel, but the clock eventually caught up to them.

So there you have it Tiger fans: another year of rubbing it in the faces of Gamecock fans. I can’t say I was too impressed with the Tiger defense tonight, but maybe this was their one off night for the year. Next up is Pitt in the ACC Championship game. The Panthers were thoroughly manhandled by Miami today. Check back with us over the next few days for detailed reviews of tonight’s game and previews of the game against Pitt next week. How does it feel to get 5 in a row against the chickens? Let us know in the comments section below.