Columbia, SC – A small minority of South Carolina fans threw trash on the field throughout the game, while Clemson dominated the Palmetto Bowl to extend their winning streak to four. Some things never change, even one year after the Gamecock’s rallying cry of “Never Again.”
After a sloppy start by both teams, the floodgates opened when Ryan Carter intercepted Jake Bentley for the shortest pick-six in Clemson history – 12 yards.
After letting the 7-0 lead linger, Tee Higgins made his nationwide debut by hauling a 25-yard pass across the middle on third-and-10. South Carolina committed two more penalties on the drive that ended in a 1-yard Feaster touchdown.
Higgins caught a 40-yard pass on a fly route to set Clemson up for Renfrow’s second touchdown of 2017, a 4-yard pass on the same play that won the national championship last year.
Coach Swinney was penalized after the play for an unsportsmanlike conduct due to going outside of the coaches box when arguing with the referee. Alex Spence missed the extra point and Clemson entered halftime with a 20-0 lead.
On the first play of the second half, Hunter Renfrow weaved and outran the Gamecock defense for a career long 61-yard touchdown to go up 27-0. The all-too-familiar Jamarcus King (whom Mike Williams carried in the end zone last year) was penalized for a facemask on the play.
Trayvon Mullen intercepted Jake Bentley on the next drive but Clemson’s drive stalled after a failed play on fourth-and-10.
Clemson grounded and pounded the Gamecocks down for the rest of the game. Etienne polished off a 13 play, 69-yard drive that lasted 6:09 with a 5-yard score to advance Clemson’s lead to 34-0 with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
When Sandstorm kicked off the fourth quarter, Clemson players waved their towels in unison with South Carolina fans as Williams-Brice turned silver and orange.
Kelly Bryant’s lone pick occurred when he threw an interception to Keisean Nixon, whom returned it 22 yards to Clemson’s 22-yard line. South Carolina’s lone points of the game came when Parker White kicked a 40-yard field goal to make the score 34-3 with 13:21 left in the game.
Hunter Johnson threw an interception in the end zone into coverage on a fly route intended for Diondre Overton. According to Coach Swinney, he lobbed the ball when he should have driven it and it will serve as a good learning experience for him.
Jake Bentley lead a meaningless drive capped off by a 38-yard pass to Bryan Edwards to make the score 34-10 with under three minutes left in the game. The Gamecocks took nine plays and 4:11 to drive the 80 yards and reach the end zone against a mixture of Clemson’s backups.
Anna Hickey pointed out Taylor Stallworth’s quote from this week: “We’ve got to make their QB play QB for the whole game.”
Kelly Bryant played QB, alright. He posted a stat line of 23-34 for 272 yards, two scores, and a pick while adding an additional 26 yards on the ground. Hunter Johnson was 2-4 for 13 yards and an interception.
Clemson’s message both tonight and throughout Swinney’s career was to be disciplined and not react to the hostile environment.
Clemson is headed to Charlotte and then a New Years’ Six Bowl, while South Carolina will play in an unheralded bowl before the end of 2017.
This win personified the 2017 Clemson Tigers. No one player put the team on his back to win. No one player dominated, the whole was better than the individual parts. No one had more than 41 rushing yards, 84 receiving yards, or 5 tackles.
Clemson remembered when Bentley explained how “they weren’t that much better than us or better than us at all.” Clemson is 39-3 since the start of 2015, while South Carolina is 17-20 during the same timeframe. The proof is in the pudding.
The Tigers have bigger stages to play on, for more marbles and more glory. The Tigers will take on Miami for the ACC Championship, and will make the playoffs for a third consecutive year if they win in Charlotte next week.
This is the Championship Phase – enjoy the ride, because the Tigers are a championship caliber team.