Clemson made a statement to South Carolina and the country Saturday night in Columbia.
The Tigers went into a hostile environment and dominated USC from start to finish while earning a 34-10 win against the Gamecocks.
Clemson led 34-0 entering the fourth quarter before USC got on the board in the final period, scoring its only touchdown with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
The top three teams in the country entering this weekend, Alabama, Miami and Clemson, all had road tests in the final regular season week of the year. While Alabama and Miami were tripped up, the Tigers passed their test in impressive fashion and proved that South Carolina still has a ways to go to be able to compete for four quarters.
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“We all know how important this game is. It’s great to be state champs, that’s for sure,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “South Carolina’s a good football team. They’ve had a great year, much, much improved… But really just proud of our guys for showing up and being ready, focused. Every week for us is a playoff mentality. And to see our guys embrace that is pretty special.”
Clemson put together a complete team performance, dominating on offense, defense and special teams.
The Tigers finished with 469 total yards to USC’s 207 and had 27 first downs to South Carolina’s 10.
Kelly Bryant was spectacular, completing 23 of 34 passes for 272 yards and two scores with 270 of the 272 yards coming in the first three quarters.
Bryant had five passes go for at least 20 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown strike to Hunter Renfrow on the first play of the second half to give the Tigers a 27-0 lead.
The junior also had plenty of help as the Tigers used a balanced attack to rush for 184 yards and 11 different receivers caught a pass.
“I do think that we are starting to play our best football. I really do. And that’s where you want to be as you get into this final stretch here,” Swinney said. “You want to have confidence. You want to have depth. You want to have good health. And you want to feel like you’ve got some rhythm and some momentum. And it feels that way.”
Renfrow led the way with four grabs for 75 yards and two scores, while freshman Tee Higgins added three catches for 84 yards.
Defensively the Tigers held USC to 207 total yards, including only 123 through the first three quarters.
Clemson had five tackles for loss with Clelin Ferrell recording a sack, while Ryan Carter and Trayvon Mullen picked off Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley.
Carter set the tone, returning the interception 12 yards for a score to give Clemson an early 7-0 lead.
The Tigers enter next weekend’s ACC championship game at Miami playing their best football of the year and should be ranked No. 1 when Tuesday’s rankings come out.
Even without Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and a talented group of playmakers that are now playing in the NFL, Clemson is back where it has been at this point the past two years, looking like a national title contender.
“I think we’re in good position,” Swinney said. “That’s where we want to be at this point, is in position. We control our destiny.”