Clemson made their way to Columbia to take on South Carolina in their quest to complete a second undefeated regular season. Judging by my friends who are Gamecock fans, these are tough times for those on the wrong side of this rivalry. Clemson has dominated this rivalry the last 5 years (and overall), won 5 straight conference championships and two national championships. All they can claim is that they play in the mighty SEC. Unfortunately, the chickens ran into the team that has dominated the SEC over that time frame.
Carolina won the toss and deferred. Travis Etienne returned the kickoff out to the Tiger 36. The Tigers started with some razzle dazzle but Tee Higgins couldn’t hang on to the flea flicker throw from Trevor Lawrence. Etienne then took a couple of handoffs to the Carolina 43. Justyn Ross kept the drive going with a 3rd down catch. Lyn-J Dixon picked up 9 yards on 1st down and moved the chains on 2nd down. Lawrence missed Amari Rodgers on a rollout on 1st down but hit Ross on a wide screen to set up 3rd & 7. USC had good coverage, so Lawrence took off and ran down to the 3. Etienne picked up a yard on 1st & goal and another yard on the next play. Etienne couldn’t quite get it in, so the Tigers called a timeout and decided to go for it. USC stuffed it. Bad play call and bad decision by Etienne not to take it to the outside. The Gamecocks kept the crowd alive with a completion out to the 22. A couple of plays later, Derion Kendrick quieted the crowd with a pick that he returned to the USC 23.
Lawrence looked for Ross on a slant but USC committed pass interference. Etienne picked up a yard on 1st down and Lawrence just missed Ross on another slant to set up 3rd & 9. Lawrence hit Higgins with a beautiful throw to the corner. Clemson led 7-0 with 6:58 left in the quarter. USC started at the 25 and Isaiah Simmons stuffed the run for a loss of 5. An incomplete pass made it 3rd & 15 and the Tiger defense read an inside screen to former Tiger Tavien Feaster perfectly, stopping him for no more than a yard gain. After the punt and a holding penalty, Clemson started at their 25.
Etienne picked up 4 yards on 1st down and 5 on 2nd down. He picked up a couple of tough yards for the 1st down. Lawrence then hit Higgins for 65 yards down the middle for the score. Clemson led 14-0 with 3:46 remaining in the 1st quarter. The once rowdy home crowd was suddenly very quiet. Another B.T. Potter kickoff put the Gamecocks at the 25. On 1st down Feaster was stuffed for a 4-yard loss but he picked up 7 yards on 2nd down. On 3rd down, USC QB Ryan Hilinski was sacked by Simmons. The punt was fair caught by Kendrick at the Tiger 27.
Dixon gained 4 yards on a pitch and then Rodgers took a jet sweep for the 1st down to the 38. Dixon got outside and moved it to the USC 46. He picked up another yard as the quarter expired. Lawrence looked for Ross down the right sideline but couldn’t make the connection. On 3rd down, he rolled right but the pass fell incomplete. The punt was downed at the 3.
USC picked up several 1st downs with strong running, and on 3rd & 1 they slipped their TE down the middle to move the ball down to the Tiger 25. The Tigers then forced 3rd & 9 and held Feaster to a 3 yard gain. USC kicked the 39-yard FG to make it 14-4 with 7:33 left in the half. Etienne returned the kickoff but a block in the back put the Tigers at their 9. Lawrence hit Ross out to the 23. A couple of poorly executed plays put the Tigers at 3rd & 15 but Lawrence hit Higgins for 23 yards. A couple of plays later he hit Ross down the left sideline to the USC 18. J.C. Chalk took a pass in the flat for 3 and Lawrence rolled left and hit Diondre Overton but it lost a yard. Lawrence hit Ross in the end zone and the officials said he was out of bounds, but a review showed that his right foot was down. Clemson led 21-3 with just over 3 minutes left in the half.
USC started at the 25 with a false start penalty that pushed them back to the 20. Hilinski was sacked on 1st down and a Feaster run on 2nd & 23 picked up 5. On 3rd & 18, a screen play left them 8 yards short. The punt gave the Tigers the ball at their 34 with 1:17 left. Ross couldn’t hang on to the 1st down pass but the Tigers were called for holding anyway. Lawrence hit Overton for 7 yards and then again for 20 to the USC 49. Ross pulled in a pass for 5 yards to the 44. Lawrence was nearly sacked but scrambled for a 1st down to the USC 36. Ross made a 7-yard catch and then Potter came in to attempt the FG. It was good and Clemson went into the half up 24-3.
Potter put the 2nd half kickoff through the back of the end zone. The Tiger defense forced 3rd & 7 but USC couldn’t convert. The punt put the Tiger offense at their 31. Lawrence picked up a couple on 1st down and hit Etienne for the 1st down. Ross got 8 yards and another 15 to move the ball to the Gamecock 35. The Tigers tried another trick play with Rodgers taking a pitch and then looking to throw back to Lawrence, but he ended up having to throw it away. Etienne took an option pitch from Lawrence down to the USC 14. A late hit on Lawrence made it 1st & goal at the 7. Lawrence threw to J.C. Chalk, but it lost 4 yards. Pass interference put the Tigers at the 2 with 1st & goal. Etienne then took it in on an outside run. It was 31-3 with about 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
Potter’s kickoff again put the Gamecocks at the 25. USC couldn’t do anything with their possession and punted. Clemson took over at their 25. Etienne and Dixon runs moved the ball out to the 40. Lawrence was sacked at the 32 on the next play. Cornell Powell took a short pass out to the 39. On 3rd & 11, USC had good pass coverage and Lawrence scrambled but couldn’t find anyone. The punt rolled down to the USC 9 yard line.
Carolina had a couple of first downs and Feaster had a nice run out near midfield as Tiger reserves began to sub in. But they couldn’t keep it going and punted away. Clemson got the ball at their 16. Dixon got 2 yards on 1st down and Lawrence scrambled for the 1st down on the next play. A couple of incomplete passes put the Tigers at 3rd & 10. Lawrence felt pressure and took off for 18 yards. A reverse to Rodgers picked up 22. A holding call pushed the Tigers back 10 yards. An incomplete pass ended the 3rd quarter with the Tigers at 2nd & 20. Etienne took a shovel pass for 17 yards and Powell took a short pass in the flat for the 1st down at the 19. Etienne and Lawrence runs set up 3rd & 5. Lawrence ran for the 1st down to the 3. Etienne then finished off the drive. Clemson led 38-3 with just under 11 minutes to go.
USC got to 4th & 2 but the Tiger defense held and the offense took over at the Gamecock 33. Dixon took the handoff from Chase Brice for 6 yards and got a couple more on 2nd down. He took a pitch on 3rd & 2 and picked up the 1st down at the 20. An incomplete pass and a TFL on Dixon made it 3rd & 17. Dixon ran for 12 yards, setting up a Potter FG attempt that sailed wide right.
USC couldn’t do anything and punted. Will Swinney fielded the punt and was tackled at the Tiger 25. Brice had some nice throws and Chez Mellusi moved the Tigers into Gamecock territory but the Tigers couldn’t convert a 3rd & 5. The punt was downed at the USC 9. USC ran a few plays and the clock expired.
The Tigers completed their perfect regular season with a thorough beatdown on the hapless Gamecocks. Next up comes Virginia in the ACC Championship next Saturday night. Check back with us over the next few days for reviews and previews. Let us know your thoughts on today’s game and the playoff run in the comments section below. Thanks for stopping by.