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Clemson vs. South Carolina: 4th Quarter Film Review

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South Carolina v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Welcome to the 4th Quarter Film Review, or in this edition, the most frustrating 15 minutes of film my eyes have seen in a long time (trust me, rewatch the game and you will be screaming over a replay you cannot change).

We pick up our part of the game with Clemson up 42-21 as the final quarter opens in Death Valley. The sky is now foggy, the temperature has dipped into the 30s, and Dabo Swinney hasn’t been criticized for scoring a touchdown yet. Here are some thoughts about the game up until this point:

  1. Clemson’s offense has played brilliantly. Trevor Lawrence has played mistake free in a rivalry game, something that is way bigger than it may sound. He’s delivered timely passes to his receivers and he’s controlled the phase of the game on the offensive side. South Carolina has had no answer for him all night, and the freshman is pretty much doing as he wishes on the field. Travis Etienne has had a huge night as well, and don’t look now, but Adam Choice is about to score his third touchdown of the game (bet you didn’t know Lawrence had just one TD in this game, did you?).
  2. Other the other side of the ball, Clemson has just looked rough. Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley is having the game of his life, but in all actuality, us Clemson fans should’ve seen this coming. After the Texas A&M loss in mid-October, Bentley began playing the best football of his career most likely. He only had 150 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee, but what he showed his fanbase was that he was still the guy, leading South Carolina to a must-win game over the Vols. Bentley really opened it up against Ole Miss, leading the Gamecocks to the win while tossing for 360 yards and a couple touchdowns. He had another good game at Florida the next week (a game they probably should’ve won), and then he tossed four touchdowns against Chattanooga (remember SC lost to The Citadel so this was a big deal). All that to say this: Bentley was due for another good game, and despite his history vs. Clemson, he was going to play well in this game whether we want to admit it or not. He wasn’t the young, inexperienced kid that got walked all over in the Valley two years ago.
  3. The compliment to Bentley is free-of-charge, but what isn’t is how poorly Clemson’s defense had played so far in this game. Bentley and the South Carolina offense are without a doubt the best unit on this team, and they were certainly going to challenge Clemson’s defense, but to this capacity? After shutting down some pretty decent quarterbacks in Eric Dungey, Ryan Finley, and Deondre Francois, the Tiger defense felt confident it could shutdown Bentley for the third year in a row. They didn’t. Broken coverages, missed tackles, and delayed play-calling from the sideline allowed South Carolina to do what no other team outside of Texas A&M had done: Expose Clemson’s weaknesses and actually take advantage of them.

I spoke last week about how well Clemson’s defense had played the last six games, especially the second, third, and fourth string guys. On Saturday night, all of them got toasted by Carolina’s offense. I was frustrated; there’s no reason they should’ve put up 600 yards and 5 scores. But all in all, it was needed. Clemson’s defense hadn’t been tested since Syracuse, and more realistically, not since A&M. There were weaknesses that needed to be brought to light, and I for one, would rather those weaknesses be exposed in a game against our rival who has no way of stopping our offense (yeah Clemson is still putting up more points against a healthy SC defense, sorry Gamecock fans) than a game against Tua Tagovailoa in the playoffs. Clemson needed this, whether we like it or not.

Here’s a very offensive fourth quarter review in a game that had already been decided. WARNING: remember Clemson’s still won this game five times in a row and is playing for its fourth straight ACC title this weekend, so don’t let yourself get too frustrated. A wise man once said that a win, is indeed a win.

42-21 Clemson, 15:00, Clemson 40

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel RPO vs. Cover 2 man DB blitz, gain of 1 Lawrence probably should've kept and hit Chase out on the bubble screen, but the give to Dixon picks up a yard.
2nd & 9 Shotgun vs. 4-3 PA pass vs. Cover 1 man, Lawrence scrambles for 6 SCAR bites on the PA but a defensive lineman is able to breakthrough and chase Lawrence out of the pocket. Trevor scambles away and gets out of bounds wisely. His legs really showed up in this game.
3rd & 3 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Dive vs. Cover 1 man LB blitz, Etienne gains 20 Etienne feasted on the SCAR rush defense all night, and he does so again here, bursting through the hole for a solid 20 yards.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Jet sweep option vs. Cover 2 man, Dixon gains 2 Surprised that Elliott and Scott didn't actually run the jet sweep more with Rodgers or Kendrick, but the action threw the linebackers off a bit, but not enough to realize Dixon was getting the ball.
2nd & 8 Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel WR screen vs. Cover 2 man, Kendrick gains 9 I love Derion Kendrick. Another weapon that can be used on the perimeter or the slot. Great vision here to cut back and shake off the tackler to gain a few more yards.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel Inside handoff vs. Cover 1 man LB blitz, Choice gains 6 Choice shows his physicality on this one, pushing forward for a good gain on first down.
2nd & 4 Shotgun vs. Nickel Read option vs. Cover 1 man LB blitz, Choice breaks free for the TD Lawrence wisely gives to Choice on the option and he bounces outside and runs through the Carolina secondary for his 3rd TD of the game. Ball game is over at this point.

49-21 Clemson, 12:05, SC 25

Drive & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Drive & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Jet sweep HB dive vs. Man coverage, gain of 5 Good chunk of yards on first down for the RB. No zone coverage at all for Clemson, man all across the board. Interesting choice by Venables.
2nd & 5 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Zone read vs. Man coverage, gain of 2 Clemson is sold out on the run early in this drive. No zone coverage and all safeties playing near the line. Bentley already has 375 yards passing at this point; not sure why we're not respecting the pass right here.
3rd & 3 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Post route vs. Cover 1 man, pass complete for 13 yards This is a good read by Bentley and he makes a good throw to Deebo Samuel for the first down. Safety Nolan Turner wasn't in position, and the Bentley/Samuel combo is good enough to burn you in that case.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Jet sweep HB dive vs. Man coverage, gain of 3 SC loves the fake jet sweep give to the HB, but Clemson's run defense is just suffocating.
2nd & 7 Shotgun vs. 4-3 PA post vs. Cover 1 Man, pass interference on Turner This is a ghost call by the referees. Turner even got his head around right as the ball was getting there. Samuel simply couldn't make the catch. Another bad call from an officiating crew that was bad all night long.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Hitch route vs. Cover 2 man, gain of 3 Bryan Edwards probably has room to make a play if this throw by Bentley doesn't get Edwards off his feet. DE Logan Rudolph gets his hands up, causing Bentley to pump fake and deliver a worse through. Effective on Rudolph's part.
2nd & 7 Shotgun vs. 4-3 PA Curls vs. Cover 2 man, pass incomplete These are the types of throws Bentley has to hit. Mark Fields had an off game, and Edwards beats him on the curl route. Bentley has to make this throw in the face of pressure.
3rd & 7 Empty Shotgun Trips vs. 4-3 Crossing route vs. Cover 2 zone, pass incomplete Clemson is extremely lucky it got good pressure on Bentley and forced an off throw. Don't know what the call was, but I'm sure Xavier Thomas and Shaq Smith weren't supposed to be standing side by side with a receiver running free across the middle. Clemson is very fortunate Rico Dowdle couldn't catch the pass from Bentley.
4th & 7 Empty Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel Post route vs. Cover 2 zone, touchdown to Samuel Awful, awful defense from Clemson. AJ Terrell gets burnt badly by Samuel and Denzel Johnson is nowhere to be found in help defense. This was just as frustrating to watch in film as it was live. No reason we should've left their best player that open.

49-28 Clemson, 9:10, Clemson 25

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Pistol vs. Nickel HB power vs. Cover 1 man, gain of 3 Etienne picks up a few yards on the power. SC's defense was ready for the run.
2nd & 7 Shotgun vs. Nickel Zone option vs. Cover 1 man, loss of 1 Feaster gets stuffed at the line. Another good stop by the SC defensive line.
3rd & 8 Shotgun vs. Nickel Hitch vs. Cover 1 man LB blitz, gain of 7 Thompson's hitch was short of the sticks. He's got to run that route deeper in a situation where a first down is needed. Tigers punt.

49-28 Clemson, 7:09, SC 29

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Empty Shotgun Trips vs. 4-3 Slant route vs. Cover 2 zone, pass incomplete Bentley's initial target is covered, so he comes to his checkdown receiver Edwards, who drops the pass. Good pass coverage from the Tigers.
2nd & 10 Empty Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel Post route vs. Cover 2 man, pass incomplete Another defensive breakdown for Clemson that they get away with. The defense was unset when SC snapped the ball and luckily Bentley missed his receiver. Not sure why, but the calls from the sideline were not coming in on time, or the players were confused about the calls. Either way, it needs to be fixed this week.
3rd & 10 Empty Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel Verts. vs Cover 2 zone, Bentley sacked for a loss Not sure what was going on downfield, but Bentley seemed hesitant to throw either way. Tries to scamble but gets sacked by Albert Huggins. SC punts.

49-28 Clemson, 6:06, Clemson 35

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel Counter vs. Man coverage, gain of 7 Etienne does a good job of patiently following his blockers and picks up a good bit of yards on first down.
2nd & 3 Shotgun vs. Nickel RPO vs. Cover 1 man, pass complete to Overton for 23 yards Great decision by Lawrence to pull the RPO and hit Overton, who lost his defender on the out route. Great job by Overton to pick up some nice YAC.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel Bubble screen vs. Cover 2 man, pass incomplete Chase drops the screen pass from Lawrence. Looked like it was put on the money by Trevor. Chase has to come up with that one.
2nd & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Counter vs. Cover 1 man, Dixon picks up 15 Dixon bursts up the middle and drags a few defenders for a gain of 15. I'm really looking forward to this kid being in the rotation more next season. So explosive.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel Counter vs. Cover 2 man DB blitz, handoff is fumbled, SC recovers As soon as I rave about Dixon, he fumbles the exchange with Lawrence and SC recovers. Tough rookie mistake. Clemson was probably headed for another score.

49-28 Clemson, 4:42, SC 26

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 PA Curls vs. Cover 2 man LB blitz, pass complete for 10 yards Nothing I can really say right here. Bentley goes through his progressions well and throws a great ball to his receiver on the curl route. Bravo.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Inside zone vs. Cover 2 man LB blitz, gain of 11 Bad rush defense from Clemson. Dowdle is able to bounce outside and run free for 11 yards. Tough breakdown from the Tiger defense.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. the Jumbled Mess PA Curls vs. Man coverage, illegal substitution on Clemson Venables tries to sub half his defense while SC goes up-tempo. I don't even have a reason for this other than a brain fart on his part. Can't play with 16 players on the field.
1st & 5 Shotgun vs. Nickel Jet sweep HB dive vs. Cover 1 man, gain of 28 Dowdle just thrashed the defense for a big gain. K'von Wallace takes a bad angle and Dowdle makes him pay. Bad rush defense.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel PA post vs. Cover 2 zone, pass complete to Shi Smith for the TD Bad defense by Clemson, but what a beautiful pass by Bentley. Can't even hate on that one. He earned it.

49-35 Clemson, 3:36. Clemson 46

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Counter vs. Man coverage LB blitz, gain of 3 Etienne picks up a few yards on first down. Not a bad gain.
2nd & 7 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Counter vs. Man coverage DB blitz, gain of 1 SC defense knows Clemson is running. They stuffed it easily here.
3rd & 6 Shotgun vs. Nickel PA go vs. Cover 1 man, Higgins' catch gains 27 yards Oh boy, Higgins snags on another defender. The poor fella on the sideline knew exactly what was going to happen before Higgins even made the catch. SC will be glad when Higgins is gone.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel Go to Higgins vs. Man coverage, pass incomplete Lawrence JUST misses Higgins on the go route. Good throw, just overshot him.
2nd & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel Inside handoff to Etienne, gain of 5 Another solid Etienne run.
3rd & 5 Shotgun vs. Nickel Inside zone vs. Man coverage, gain of 2 Etienne runs straight into the line. Probably just an effort to keep the clock moving.
4th & 3 Shotgun vs. Nickel Rollout to Renfrow vs. Man coverage, gain of 9 This is simply Dabo trying to hold the ball unti the end. Everyone making a big deal out of it just needs to quit being so sensative. Great route by Renfrow and Clemson keeps possession.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel Inside handoff to Etienne vs. Cover 1 man, Etienne scores again Oh no, Dabo ran the ball with under a minute to go and SC couldn't stop Etienne. What a shame. Can't believe Dabo wouldn't do the right thing and take a knee in a rivalry game. Shame on him.

Do I mind the late score, even if it’s petty? Nah, never take your foot off the gas, especially against your rivals. South Carolina gets the ball back one more time, and it ends with the clock running out and Clemson fans rushing to greet the team at midfield. Offensively, beautiful night. Defensively, it’ll be one to forget, but also a good teaching moment and something that shouldn’t happen again. Chalk up another win for the good guys. Time to go beat Pitt and make another playoff run.