Clemson flattens South Carolina, bolsters case for No. 1
COLUMBIA, S.C. — By the time Clemson’s kickoff against South Carolina rolled around Saturday night, it was no secret that the Tigers had a chance to assume the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
“They know, because I told them,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s awesome. These guys have worked all year to stay in the hunt.
“You all always ask me about those polls earlier in the year and I tell you it doesn’t matter. This is the time of year when it matters. We’re almost to December. It matters.”
The third-ranked Tigers took a big step toward being a playoff factor once again by cruising past rival and No. 24 South Carolina 34-10 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Clemson, the defending national champion, improved to 11-1 and is assured of being upwardly mobile when the latest CFP poll is released. The two teams ranked ahead of them last week both lost, with No. 2 Miami falling to Pittsburgh on Friday and top-ranked Alabama losing at Auburn on Saturday.
Clemson will play Miami on Saturday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
On Saturday, it was all Clemson, which posted its fourth consecutive victory in the Palmetto Bowl and gave Coach Dabo Swinney his 100th career victory. Swinney became just the fourth FBS coach to reach 100 wins in his first 10 seasons, joining Urban Meyer, Chris Petersen and Bob Stoops.
“Getting our 100th win here is something I will always remember,” Swinney said. “The wins go by my name, but I’m just fortunate to have a bunch of great players that play for me. They’ve earned those wins. I haven’t played a play in any of those games.”
Despite losing the bulk of its offensive firepower from last year’s team, Clemson set a school record by becoming the first team to defeat four Top 25 teams on the road in a season. The Tigers also have won 10 consecutive games against ranked opponents, an ACC record.
Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant was the catalyst for Clemson, completing 23 of 34 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was Clemson’s defense that got the ball rolling.
The Tigers grabbed an early lead against the Gamecocks (8-4) when cornerback Ryan Carter stepped in front of a Jake Bentley pass and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown with 6:50 left in the first quarter. It was the shortest pick-six in Clemson history.
The Tigers extended their lead on a 1-yard run by running back Tavien Feaster with 8:12 left in the second quarter to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive, then pushed the advantage to 20-0 with 1:59 remaining in the first half when wide receiver Hunter Renfrow snagged a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bryant.
Clemson’s onslaught continued in the third quarter. On the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage in the second half, Bryant tossed a short pass in the right flat to Renfrow, who made a spin move and weaved his way 61 yards for a touchdown and a 27-0 lead.
“I thought we played well in space and tackled well to that point,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “But the first play of the second half was disappointing. Four or five guys missed the guy. Give the guy credit — he made a play.”
Freshman running back Travis Etienne capped a 13-play, 69-yard drive with a 5-yard scoring run that pushed Clemson’s advantage to 34-0 with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
All of South Carolina’s scoring came in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks got a 40-yard field goal from Parker White after an interception by Keisean Nixon with 13:21 left, then drove 80 yards in nine plays before quarterback Jake Bentley connected with wide receiver Bryan Edwards for a 38-yard touchdown with 2:41 left in the game.
Clemson’s defense was dominant for much of the game, holding South Carolina to a season-low 207 total yards and 10 first downs.
“It was hard to get anything going until late,” Muschamp said. “I’m disappointed with that. Their front four affected us in the run and passing game. Give them credit for that. We just got beat.”
NOTES: Clemson junior QB Kelly Bryant is 11-1 as a starter, which breaks the school record for wins by a first-year starting quarterback. ... Clemson WR Deon Cain needs one touchdown reception to become the fifth player in school history with at least 20 career touchdown catches. ... Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell is the only player in the nation with at least five tackles for loss in two different games. ... South Carolina LB Skai Moore has a team-high three interceptions this season and 14 for his career, which is tied for the school record. ... CB JaMarcus King has broken up 12 passes this season, which ties him for fifth in the Gamecocks’ record book. ... TE Hayden Hurst had three receptions and already ranks first in program history in career receptions for a tight end with 97.