Clemson’s 28-10 lead was suddenly down to three points and Williams-Brice Stadium was rocking when the Tigers took over at their own 40-yard line early in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon.
A team playing with nothing to lose against its top-ranked rival was starting to believe it could ruin Clemson’s undefeated season, but Deshaun Watson and the Clemson offense had other ideas.
The Tigers, who fumbled three times and had another fumble overturned, calmly marched 60 yards in 10 plays to take a two-score lead with only eight minutes remaining. Clemson went on to win 37-32, marking its first victory at Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007, and Dabo Swinney’s first as Clemson’s head coach.
Tigers’ co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said he isn’t sure Clemson would have made the drive with the game on the line in previous years.
“I think that’s what’s different about this offense maybe from some of our other offenses in the past,” Scott said. “Whenever that momentum starts turning the other way you have to go strong arm that momentum and really make plays, not sit back and wait for somebody else to make a play. … That’s how we’ve been all year long.”
Clemson converted a third-and-7 and third-and-11 on the series, which ended with Watson’s 3-yard touchdown run, his third of the game.
Tigers running back Wayne Gallman, who had 102 yards on the ground, said there was no panic when Carolina cut the lead to 28-25.
“We stayed focused the whole time,” he said. “At one point me and Deshaun looked at each other and just said we got this.”
Cain impressed with atmosphere
It didn’t take Clemson freshman wide receiver Deon Cain long to find out Williams-Brice Stadium would be a tough place to play.
“It was crazy when I first walked out my first time being here. The fans were crazy,” he said. “All of just the emotions from the fans. I really felt like they hated us. All it did was motivate me more.”
Cain looked motivated, catching five passes for 96 yards, including a touchdown. Cain has caught touchdowns in five consecutive games, breaking Sammy Watkins’ freshmen record.
It was Clemson’s 50th all-time victory over South Carolina in Columbia, where it has a 50-32-3 record. Clemson hadn’t won in Columbia since 2007.
“It’s special. It’s special for our fans,” said Swinney. “When you live in this state and have families that don’t talk to each other this week and things like that. I’ve grown with this. This is my 26th rivalry game. When you win it, it’s just awesome.”
Swinney 73-26 record moved him ahead of Tommy Bowden into third place on the Clemson victories list. Frank Howard (165) and Danny Ford (96) are ahead of him. Swinney is also 13th on the all-time ACC coaching victories list.
Extra tough extra points
Kicker Greg Huegel’s 36-yard field goal with 1:21 left was his 16th consecutive made field goal. He finished the season a perfect 10-for-10 on the road, and is 21-for-23 overall.
However, Huegel missed an extra point for the fifth time. Swinney said he’ll use Ammon Lakip for extra points next week in Charlotte. Lakip was suspended the first three games as a discipline following an arrest for drug possession. Huegel, a walk-on, won the job and has held it after Lakip returned.
▪ Clemson tied the 1981 national championship team for wins in a season and tied the school record with a 15th straight win set in 1947-49.
▪ Clemson surpassed 500 yards of total offense for the eighth game in a row, ran its record to 72-0-1 when rushing and passing for more than 200 yards in a game.
▪ Watson’s 16-1 as Clemson’s starting quarterback. He accounted for 393 yards of total offense and figured in four of the Tigers’ five touchdowns, rushing for three and passing for one. He rushed for a career-high 114 yards.
▪ Gallman rushed for 102 yards, tying Kenny Flowers and Raymond Priester for the single-season school record with seven 100-yard games. It was the second time this season both Watson and Gallman rushed for 100 yards or more in the same game (Florida State).
▪ Shaq Lawson went over 20 tackles for loss after collecting a first-quarter sack.
▪ B.J. Goodson had 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss in the opening half, giving him 10.5 for the Tiger defense over a five-game stretch. He has had at least two tackles for loss in four of Clemson’s past five games. Goodson finished with three tackles for loss and was credited with 12 tackles from the press box.
▪ Adrian Baker intercepted his second pass of the season, both in the red zone. He previously picked off a Florida State pass in a similar situation on November 7.