COLUMBIA - Outside of winning a national championship, Saturday had the makings of the perfect day in Dabo Swinney's tenure as Clemson University head football coach.
Swinney notched his 100th victory as the Tigers' head coach with a dominating 34-10 victory over archrival South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. If that weren't enough to celebrate, losses by College Football Playoff No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Miami paved the way for Clemson to likely ascend to the top of the CFP poll heading into conference championship week.
"I remember my 100th game was the ACC championship, I guess in '15. That was pretty special and our 100th win, for it to come here is definitely something that I will always remember," Swinney said of the milestone win that ran his overall record at Clemson to 100-29. "The wins go by my name, but I'm just fortunate to have a bunch of great players that play for me. They have earned those wins. I haven't played a play in any of those games. The players played those games and we have a great staff and a lot of awesome people that have been a part of it."
The death knell for No. 24 South Carolina on Saturday likely came before the game even started. Just moments before kickoff, Alabama fell at No. 6 Auburn, 26-14, a fact that Swinney shared with his players to give them a little added motivation. That, coupled with Miami's 24-14 upset loss on Friday at Pittsburgh, left the Tigers a clear path to No. 1 with a victory over the Gamecocks.
"Yeah, I told them (that Alabama had lost), and it's (potentially moving up to No. 1) something that is awesome," Swinney said. "These guys have worked really hard all year long to stay in the hunt, and this is the time of year when it matters. Y'all ask me about the polls early and I don't ever answer or I tell you it doesn't matter, but it matters now. Now it matters. We're almost to December. It matters. So I'm really proud of our guys for fighting, battling, scratching."
Saturday's win was all the more impressive because it was Clemson's first win over a South Carolina team with at least eight wins since 1988, when both teams entered with 8-2 records and the Tigers won 29-10 at Clemson. Also, Clemson had never beaten a South Carolina team in Columbia that had entered with at least eight wins until Saturday.
One of the highlights for Clemson was the play of wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. The junior hauled in four passes for 75 yards and two scores, including a career-long 61-yard catch-and-run score from Kelly Bryant on the opening play of the second half.
"He's had a great year, he's been productive and he just comes up clutch," Swinney said of Renfrow. "What makes him special is he is a very smart player, first of all, and he has a brilliant football mind. He understands how to play the position. ... That's where it starts, and then just his skill set. He's longer than people think, a long-armed kid, but he is just explosive. His lateral quickness -- he's the fastest shuttle guy on our team -- is what makes him special and what makes him so difficult (to contain) in space, because he can stick a foot in the ground and go that way quicker than most everybody else, and you saw that on that long touchdown run."
"It (the win) means a lot to me," Renfrow said. "I'm so proud of the way we played, the way we came into this environment. The defense helped us early, got a big score, and I'm just so proud of them."
That defensive score came when cornerback Ryan Carter stepped in front of a Jake Bentley pass and took it 12 yards untouched into the end zone for the game's first points with 6:50 left in the opening quarter.
"Great performance defensively. I took a lot of pride in that, especially several guys who I thought really played well collectively," Carter said. "Hats off to the D-line and linebackers. I think we just had a great week of preparation. We knew what it was going to take to beat a team like this. South Carolina is a great football team, so we knew that we had to prepare and be locked in from the jump."
Defensive back Trayvon Mullen also came away with an interception of Bentley on USC's next offensive series after Renfrow's long touchdown reception.
"I knew they were going to come to my side," Mullen said of the pass that was intended for Bryan Edwards. "He's a pretty good receiver so when it comes to crunch time he's the receiver they're likely to go to."
Sophomore running back Tavien Feaster had a 1-yard touchdown run for the first offensive score of the game.
"It was incredible," Feaster said of coming to Columbia and getting a win. "We knew all the guys were locked in from the moment we left the hotel. It was just one of those things. It's amazing, four straight (wins in the series), to keep carrying on. Just very excited to get this victory."