By Caleb Johnson
Columbia, SC— Comedian and social media star HaHa Davis coined the phrase “This finna’ be a breeze” throughout his viral videos on Instagram. The phrase perfectly describes No. 3 Clemson’s manhandling of the South Carolina Gamecocks 34-10 in the Palmetto Bowl on Saturday.
South Carolina, looking to be the third upset of the weekend over a Top-10 team brought energy, but not near enough skill to leave Williams-Brice Stadium with a win.
The chilly primetime game in front of 82,908 fans joined USC and Clemson together for their 110th matchup. It would end as Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney’s 100th win bearing the head coach title.
“For it to come here is something I’ll always remember. The wins go by my name, but I have a bunch of great players that have played for me and earned those wins” Coach Swinney replied when asked if the benchmark held any importance personally.
Clemson, looking to rise in the polls after losses from Alabama and Miami, came out hot and cold defensively on the first drive of the game. The Tigers blew up USC QB Jake Bentley’s pass, but wouldn’t pressure him for most of the game. After Bentley overthrew his favorite target TE Hayden Hurst on third down, the Gamecocks looked to go for it on fourth. However, the call was a bluff looking for a Clemson offsides call, and USC took a delay of game penalty to punt.
The Tigers were not much better on their first drive which started at the Clemson 25 yard line. McCloud picked up a couple of first downs off an outside pitch and a big misdirection play. Clemson followed it up with a failed trick play where the O-line remained still as the ball was snapped. QB Kelly Bryant tossed a screen pass to Milan Richard, but the Gamecocks were not fooled and dropped the tight end for eight yards. Clemson would be forced to punt where Isaiah Simmons would down the ball at the USC one yard line.
The second play of USC’s second drive proved to be the kick starter of Clemson’s dominant night. Bentley drops back in his end zone with a clean pocket and Bryan Edwards sprinting down the right sideline on a go route. However, Bentley decides to throw a hitch route to Clemson’s Ryan Carter who walks into the end zone for the pick-six.
The following drives for USC would wallow in disappointment. The Tigers would not pressure Jake Bentley most of the night, but the sophomore QB forced quick throws time and time again. He finished the night 16/29 with one fourth-quarter touchdown and two interceptions. The South Carolina offense barely broke 200 total yard all game.
One surprising incident to reoccur throughout the night took place off the field. After a Clemson drive in the second quarter which featured three major penalties against the Gamecocks and finished with a Tavien Feaster TD, USC fans began to chunk bottles and miscellaneous trash onto Clemson players. This action infuriated Coach Dabo Swinney who was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty after leaving the coaches box to express his frustration with the referees. The Gamecock fans would continue their hailing of bottles at halftime as the Tigers ran off the field.
The second half featured a conservative Clemson offense, and a desperate USC offense. The Tigers opened the third with a short screen pass from Bryant to Hunter Renfrow. The junior receiver took the pass, put a spin move on a Gamecock defender, shook off a facemask grab, and took it to the house for 61 yards. It is Renfrow’s longest reception of his career. QB Kelly Bryant finished the evening 23/34 for 272 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Clemson can expect a #1 ranking Sunday night during the CFB ranking selection show, to which Coach Swinney now sees as an important merit.
“You guys always ask me about the rankings. Now it matters. We’re almost to December, it matters. I’m really proud of our guys for fighting, battling, scratching [and] competing.”
The Tigers will face “The U” Miami next weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina for the ACC Championship. It is all but assumed the winner would solidify a spot in the 4-team CFB Playoffs on January 1st.