Two years ago South Carolina came to Clemson and was whipped from start to finish in an embarrassing 56-7 loss.
Will Muschamp said leading up to Saturday’s game the Gamecocks had some players that “didn’t compete” in 2016 at Death Valley and “that wasn’t going to happen again.”
Muschamp’s USC squad held its own against the Tigers for most of Saturday night, particularly on offense, before Clemson pulled away for a 56-35 victory to claim its fifth consecutive win in the rivalry series.
“Guys fought their guts out,” Muschamp said. “We came here to win the game. We didn’t.”
Clemson led 28-21 at the half before jumping out to a 49-21 lead. USC pulled to within 49-35 with 3:37 remaining. But Clemson recovered the onside kick and scored with 39 seconds left on a touchdown run by Travis Etienne to finish off the win.
“I’m so proud of our team. It’s so hard to go 12-0. It’s only the third time ever that’s been done here,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “Also, what an amazing accomplishment for this team to achieve something that hasn’t been done in my lifetime by beating South Carolina five times in a row.”
Clemson moved the ball up and down the field at will against South Carolina’s banged up defense as the Tigers accumulated 744 total yards. South Carolina was without six starters on defense, including its best pass rusher D.J. Wonnum and one of its best defensive backs in Jaycee Horn.
The Tigers took advantage, finishing with the third-most yards in school history.
Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was 27-for-36 passing for 393 yards and a touchdown, while Travis Etienne led the way on the ground with 28 carries for 150 yards and two scores.
Senior Adam Choice had three rushing touchdowns in his last game at Clemson, while Tavien Feaster and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins also rushed for a touchdown. Wilkins scored on a toss from a yard out midway through the second quarter.
“That was an amazing performance by our offense,” Swinney said. “Trevor was unbelievable in his first rivalry game. Our receivers made tons of plays. Hunter Renfrow made some amazing plays on third down. Our offense played maybe its best game of the season and had great balance. All of our running backs ran well, and our offensive line dominated and gave up no sacks.”
Jake Bentley and the South Carolina passing attack did all it could to keep the Gamecocks in the game.
Bentley passed for 510 yards with five touchdowns and one interception, setting the record for a USC quarterback against Clemson. He had more than 300 passing yards in the first half and finished with the second most passing yards ever against a Tigers defense. Chris Weinke of Florida State had 521 passing yards against the Tigers in 2000.
“It’s great and all. Maybe 30 years from now I will look back and appreciate it more but right now all I can think about is we lost,” Bentley said. “That’s what it boils down to. We didn’t score as many points as they did no matter how well anybody did on offense.”
The Gamecocks had 314 yards of offense in the first half, which was the second most Clemson had allowed in a game all year. South Carolina finished with 600 total yards of offense.
“I’m disappointed in our performance tonight,” Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “I thought South Carolina and Jake had a good plan, and they played well. Obviously, I didn’t coach them very well tonight. I’m very embarrassed about different things that happened there tonight, and obviously, it’s my responsibility to get our guys ready.”
South Carolina came up empty inside the Clemson 5-yard line twice as Bentley had passes fall incomplete on fourth down late in the first quarter and midway through the third.
With the victory the Tigers improved to 12-0 (8-0) and are 12-0 for the third time in school history.
Clemson will face Pitt in the ACC title game next week. The Panthers (7-5) lost 24-3 at Miami on Saturday. The Gamecocks (6-5, 4-4) will host Akron next week.
Star of the game: Both quarterbacks were incredible. Tigers freshman Trevor Lawrence was 27-for-36 passing for 393 yards and a touchdown, while USC quarterback Jake Bentley was 32-for-50 for 510 yards with five touchdowns and one pick.
Stat of the game: (744) Clemson had 744 yards of offense, which is its third most ever in school history and the most the Gamecoks have ever allowed.
Clemson’s secondary is searching for answers: The Tigers allowed South Carolina players to run free all night.
Clemson’s offense is incredible: The Tigers were balanced, finishing with more than 350 rushing yards and passing yards. Clemson did whatever it wanted against USC.
Next for Clemson
Who: Clemson vs. Pitt, ACC Championship Game
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 1
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Next for USC
Who: South Carolina vs. Akron
When: Noon Dec. 1
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC
TV: SEC Network alternate
How they scored
USC: Samuel 9 pass from Bentley (White kick), 10:41
CU: Choice 1 run (Huegel kick), 6:17
CU: Higgins 22 pass from T.Lawrence (Huegel kick), :17
CU: Wilkins 1 run (Huegel kick), 7:23
USC: K.Pollard 67 pass from Bentley (White kick), 6:29
CU: Choice 2 run (Huegel kick), 4:49
USC: Samuel 75 pass from Bentley (White kick), 4:37
CU: Etienne 2 run (Huegel kick), 10:21
CU: Feaster 13 run (Huegel kick), 6:46
CU: Choice 15 run (Huegel kick), 12:05
USC: Samuel 32 pass from Bentley (White kick), 9:10
USC: Shi.Smith 20 pass from Bentley (White kick), 3:37
CU: Etienne 7 run (Huegel kick), :39
Time of Possession
RUSHING: South Carolina, Denson 17-62, Dowdle 4-49, (Team) 1-(minus 1), Bentley 3-(minus 20). Clemson, Etienne 28-150, Feaster 9-63, Choice 7-56, T.Lawrence 4-42, Dixon 5-38, Wilkins 2-2.
PASSING: South Carolina, Bentley 32-50-1-510. Clemson, T.Lawrence 27-36-0-393, (Team) 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: South Carolina, Samuel 10-210, Shi.Smith 9-109, B.Edwards 5-41, K.Pollard 2-94, Denson 2-16, Dowdle 2-16, August 1-17, Crosby 1-7. Clemson, Higgins 6-142, H.Renfrow 5-80, Rodgers 5-18, Kendrick 4-51, Ross 3-58, Overton 1-22, Etienne 1-9, Feaster 1-7, T.Thompson 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Clemson, Huegel 39.