The Clemson Tigers overwhelmed the South Carolina Gamecocks offense and controlled the contest despite having very little success on offense. The win puts a cap on a four-game winning streak to end the 2023 regular season and Wes Goodwin’s defense deserves the lion’s share of the credit. What were the key plays that shaped the outcome of the 16-7 win?
Khalil Barnes Scoop and Score
The Clemson defense got off to an outstanding start. On the second play of the game, Spencer Rattler attempted a screen pass to Xavier Legette. The star wideout dropped the pass and Legette hesitated to pick up the loose ball. Khalil Barnes did not. The emerging star grabbed the backward pass off the ground and scampered into the end zone for the opening touchdown. The play was reviewed and stood as called, putting Clemson up 7-0. On the very next play, Khalil Barnes intercepted a lofted pass from Rattler. Three offensive plays, two turnovers. Clemson’s offense was unable to capitalize on the interception, but the two defensive plays set the tone for the evening.
South Carolina Responds
The next possession for South Carolina resulted in the best offensive possession of the game for either team. That ended up being a very low bar indeed but credit to the Gamecocks for one good possession. They marched 81 yards on 12 plays and converted a fourth and goal from the one-yard line with a nice run by backup quarterback Luke Doty for a touchdown.
Dropped INT Results in a 50-yard Field Goal
Clemson ground out a few first downs with Phil Mafah and Cade Klubnik running for yardage and advancing into scoring territory. On third and nine, Klubnik put a pass in danger of being intercepted and he was fortunate the SC defender dropped the easy pick. The second chance allowed Jonathan Weitz to line up for a 50-yard field goal. Weitz was confident all night and nailed the long kick to put the Tigers ahead 10-7. That was all the Clemson defense needed.
Defense Sets Up Short Field
In the second quarter, an Aidan Swanson punt pinned the Gamecocks at the 13-yard line. They attempted a pair of runs that went backward and a third and 18 pass fell incomplete. After the SC punt, Clemson took over at the South Carolina 45-yard line and converted one first down on a pass to Will Shipley. The offense could not muster anything else and Weitz was called on again. This time, he hit from 49 yards out to give Clemson the 13-7 lead.
Barrett Carter Ends the Half
Clemson’s offensive ineptitude continued as they had to punt the ball to South Carolina with only 1:26 remaining in the half. The Gamecocks began the drive at the 43-yard line and looked for a chance to steal points before the end of the second quarter. On third and five, Barrett Carter burst through the SC offensive line and sacked Spencer Rattler, effectively ending the first half with Clemson ahead 13-7.
Tyler Brown's Catch Leads to Third Field Goal
Clemson’s offense finally found something positive down the field. On the second play of the half, Klubnik connected with Tyler Brown for a 39-yard gain. He then hit Josh Sapp for a short gain but two more incomplete passes killed the drive. It was a curious decision to not run the ball at all after a long completion and again, the offense could not find the end zone. Jonathan Weitz hit his third field goal of the game and it was now a two-possession game. The way Clemson’s defense was dialed in, it really did feel like the game was over.
TJ Parker Shuts It Down
With the Tigers ahead 16-7 with less than six minutes remaining, South Carolina’s offense found a tiny bit of hope with back-to-back first downs. Clemson’s defense stopped the Gamecocks short on third down, setting up a fourth and three. TJ Parker pressured Rattler and wrapped him up, forcing Rattler to throw the ball in desperation. It fell harmlessly to the ground with around three minutes to play. Clemson got a couple of first downs to run out the clock on the 16-7 win for the Tigers.
South Carolina’s offense was held to only 169 yards of offense (keep in mind, 81 yards were on one drive) and just three yards per play. The Gamecocks had only 22 minutes of possession and converted only two of 13 third downs. This was the first Clemson win without an offensive touchdown since a 2014 victory over Louisville.