CLEMSON – The Clemson Tigers football team won “the one for the thumb” as it beat archrival South Carolina for the fifth straight year, 56-35 this time, at Clemson Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
The Tigers completed the regular season with an unblemished 12-0 record heading into Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against 7-5 Pittsburgh in Charlotte.
“To be 12-0 is really special,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “(An) unbelievable accomplishment by our team.”
It was an offensive explosion for the Tigers as they hung 744 total yards on the Gamecocks, 358 rushing and 393 passing.
“Just an amazing performance offensively,” Swinney said. “You know, last week, we stunk it up the first half (against Duke).”
Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence had the best game of his career, completing 27 of his 36 passes for 393 yards, a career-high for Lawrence and the most passing yards ever given up by the Gamecocks to Clemson. Lawrence also tossed a touchdown in the win.
Clemson sophomore running back Travis Etienne also turned in a solid performance, rushing the ball 28 times for 150 yards and two scores. Etienne broke the single-season Clemson rushing touchdown record of 17 with his two touchdown performance, bringing him to 19 on the season.
South Carolina, which fell to 6-5, had an offensive explosion as well, coming against one of the best defenses in the country no less.
Quarterback Jake Bentley passed for a career high 510 and five touchdowns against just one interception. He completed 32 of 50 passes.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel was Bentley’s main target, catching 10 passes for 210 yards and three scores. Wide receiver Shi Smith caught nine passes for 109 yards and a score, and tight end Keil Pollard caught two passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
The Gamecocks set the tone on the opening possession of the game. USC marched 75 yards in 12 plays and capped it off with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Bentley to Samuel. Sophomore placekicker Parker White’s extra point was good to put the Gamecocks up 7-0 with 10:41 to go in the first quarter.
Clemson answered with its own 75-yard drive that took 10 plays and ended with 1-yard touchdown run from Choice. Senior placekicker Greg Huegel’s extra point was true to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:17 to go in the first quarter.
The Gamecocks would have to punt on their next drive, but junior punter Joseph Charlton pinned the Tigers at their 5-yard-line.
However, the Tigers would drive 95 yards in 10 plays and finish it off with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to wide receiver Tee Higgins. Huegel’s extra point was good to put the Tigers up 14-7 with 17 seconds to go in the first quarter.
That was the first of three scoring drives of 95 yards or more for the Tigers in the contest.
South Carolina would go for it on fourth down and goal from the Clemson 3 on its next drive, but Bentley’s pass to junior wide receiver Bryan Edwards fell incomplete and the Gamecocks turned it over on downs.
Clemson responded with a 97-yard scoring drive that took 12 plays. All-American defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, lined up in the backfield, scored from one yard out on fourth down and goal. Huegel’s extra point made it 21-7 with 7:23 to go before the halftime.
The Gamecocks answered immediately with a touchdown of their own, a 67-yard touchdown pass from Bentley to Pollard. White’s extra point made it 21-14 with 6:29 to go in the second quarter.
Clemson would answer with a drive that featured a 34-yard run from Lawrence. Choice took it in from two yards out and Huegel’s extra point was true to put the Tigers up 28-14 with 4:49 to go before the half.
On South Carolina’s very next play from scrimmage, Bentley hit Samuel for a 75-yard touchdown. White’s extra point was good to cut Clemson’s lead to 28-21 with 4:37 to go before the half.
The Gamecocks forced the Tigers to punt for the first time on Clemson’s next drive and looked to for a game-tying drive at halftime.
Bentley made his only mistake of the night though. He was picked off by linebacker J.D. Davis, the first interception of his career.
Clemson wasn’t able to take advantage of the turnover after Huegel missed a 39-yard field goal with 25 seconds to go before the half.
Clemson scored on the opening possession of the second half, a 10-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run from Etienne. Huegel’s extra point made it 35-21 with 10:21 to go.
The Tigers forced South Carolina to punt on its next possession, and the Tigers responded with an 80-yard scoring drive to put some distance between themselves and the Gamecocks. The drive was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run from junior running back Tavien Feaster to make it 42-21 with 6:46 to go.
Clemson then drove 98 yards in 11 plays with Choice scoring from 15 yards out to make it 49-21 with 12:05 left in the game.
Bentley threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Samuel and to make it 49-28 with 9:10 left.
The Gamecocks cut the lead t 49-35 with Bentley tossing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Smith with 3:37 to go in the game.
South Carolina attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered by Clemson. Swinney put his starters back in on offense, and the Tigers put a ribbon on the win with a 7-yard touchdown run from Etienne with 39 seconds left.
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