It shouldn't have taken long for most to realize that this game wasn't going play out quite like the last two had. After only a half of play, Jake Bentley had already shredded the Tigers’ second ranked defense for over 300 yards through the air. The tempo, along with a litany of formations the Gamecocks were rolling out, had the Tiger defense looking confused at times, not communicating well, and on their heels consistently. It was readily apparent early on that this just wasn't going to be the defense's night. A few times this season the defense bailed out the offense, and on this night it was the offense's turn to prop up the defense.
We pick it up after halftime, with the Tigers up 28-21. After winning the coin toss and electing to defer, the Clemson offense looked to pick things up right where they'd left off, having racked up 395 yards of offense, and moving the ball at will throughout the first half.
Clemson 28 SC 21
Clemson Ball, Tiger 25 14:49
Travis Etienne opens the half with a 1st down carry straight up the middle, gain of 8. Trevor Lawrence hits Amari Rodgers on a WR screen for no gain. 3rd and 2 and Etienne carries it straight up the middle again, picks up 9. 1st down at midfield and it is Etienne again, this time he bounces to the right and goes for 9, add on a facemask penalty on SC. 1st down at the SC 35 and Adam Choice gets the carry and picks up 6 behind excellent blocking from by left side of the line. Choice again on 2nd down, again around the left side, gain of 2. Tigers take a timeout before the 3rd and 2, then Etienne picks up 6, but Hyatt is called for a hold so they are now behind the chains, as its 3rd and 12 at the SC 37. Lawrence drops a dime right into Hunter Renfrow’s hands, pick up of 25. That was a thing of beauty. The throw:
Lawrence put that ball where no one but his guy was catching it. 1st down at the SC 12 and Etienne takes the handoff around the left side and gets 7. Etienne gets it again on 2nd down, this time straight up the middle, picks up 3, 1st and Goal at the 2, and who else?
10 plays 75 yards, (TD) 4:39
Travis Etienne goes right behind Matt Bockhorst, who'd just subbed in for an injured John Simpson. The Tigers came out of the half determined to run the ball, and the Gamecock D had no answer, offering up very little resistance.
Clemson 35 SC 21
SC Ball, Gamecock 20 10:21
1st down and Jake Bentley finds Kiel Pollard wide open down the middle of the field for 27 yards. After coming to the line, the SC offense checks over to the sideline, as does the back end of the Tiger defense. The ball is snapped and Kendall Joseph, JD Davis, Denzel Johnson and Tanner Muse were all looking at the sideline. They were beaten as soon as it was snapped. It is an issue we have seen at times before this season against tempo teams, but in this game it was repeatedly happening. Does Tre Lamar’s absence play any role in that? Brent Venables loves to wait until the last possible second to make the defensive call, so it is possible the same thing would happen with a healthy Lamar in the lineup.
1st down at the SC 47 and Bentley finds Deebo Samuel for a gain of 11, on a WR screen to the right, out of another one of the unusual formations the Gamecocks were using. Mon Denson gets a first down carry from the Tiger 42, gets a yard up the middle. 2nd down and big Christian Wilkins just blows right by, both the Gamecock RG and C, and sacks Bentley for a loss of 9.
3rd and 18, ball at midfield and SC moves early, false srart on the RT. 3rd and 23 and Bentley, who had all day, tries to hit TE Kyle Markway down the middle, and incomplete and SC punts.
5 plays 25 yards (Punt) 2:13
Clemson Ball, Tiger 20 8:03
1st down and Lawrence hits Justyn Ross on a deep slant for 15. On the ensuing 1st down Tavien Feaster takes a handoff around the left, and cutting it back towards the middle of the field, gain of 18. 1st and 10, SC 47 and Lawrence scrambles to his left and hits Ross but it is caught out of bounds, incomplete. 2nd and 10 and Lawrence then hits Tee Higgins on a skinny post, picking up 34 to the 13. Money.
And on the very next play, Feaster finishes off the drive running it in from 13 yards out
5 plays 80 yards (TD) 1:22
Clemson 42 SC 21
SC Ball, Gamecock 25 6:35
1st down and Bentley hits Bryan Edwards on a quick hitch, gain of 4. 2nd down pass goes to Shi Smith, pickup of 11. 1st down, and Bentley sails one over Edwards head. 2nd down, false start on SC, their 4th of the game. 2nd and 15, and Denson gets 7 yards through a big hole on the right side. Brings up 3rd and 8 at the SC 42, Bentley, with Kendall Joseph bearing down on him, hits TE Jacob August down the middle of the field (where else?) and picks up 17. Another 3rd down conversion.
1st down at the Tiger 41, and Denson breaks a couple of tackles and gets a nice gain of 9. Denson picks up 2 more around the right side, another Gamecock 1st down at the Tiger 30. Rico Dowdle on another nice 1st down gain, behind the LT, picks up 7. WR screen to Deebo, and Simmons has him around the ankles, looking for a TFL but instead Samuel extends out and dives forward, just enough for the 1st down. Bentley looking for Markway again, but it is to high and incomplete. 2nd and 10 at the Tiger 20, and Xavier Thomas gets pinched inside as Denson takes the handoff around the right side all the way to the Tiger 4, pickup of 16. 1st and Goal,and Denson gets a yard up the middle. On 2nd down, he gets another yard and its 3rd and Goal from the 2. Timeout Clemson, as Bryan Edwards was uncovered on the right side of the field. After the timeout, SC brings in a fullback, and it is a toss to Denson, around the right side. Nothing there as Austin Bryant stops him for no gain.
That would bring up 4th and Goal and that is when we saw this absurd call for Disconcerting Signals on a “Barrel Roll.” It is not something you see much these days, but it isn’t illegal unless you are mimicking the snap count or something to that effect.
So, instead of 4th and Goal at the 4, it is 4th and Goal at the 2, and Bentley can not connect with Deebo, turnover on downs. Denzel Johnson with good coverage.
Despite putting on their worst performance of the season to date, this defense still had two big 4th down stops, both on 4th and Goal plays from the 2. They also kept SC off the scoreboard in the 3rd quarter. So, while there was a lot of ugly on that side of the ball, there were some bright spots thrown in here and there as well.
15 plays 73 yards (Turnover on Downs) 4:49
Clemson Ball, Tiger 2 1:29
Etienne with the 1st down carry, gains 4. Lawrence hits Derion Kendrick with a short screen to the right side, pickup of 9. Etienne gets 6 up the middle on 1st down. Kendrick on a well executed jet sweep to the left, gains 19 yards.
1st and 10 at the Tiger 40 and that's how the third quarter ends, as the fog is really starting to roll in off of Lake Hartwell.