Tigers dominate for sixth straight win over Gamecocks

Clemson now set to take on Virginia in ACC title game

By Alex Maminakis
Courtesy The Journal

COLUMBIA — In the 117th edition of the Palmetto State rivalry game, it was all Clemson on Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Trevor Lawrence passed for 295 yards and three touchdowns, and Travis Etienne had a record-breaking day as the No. 3 Tigers beat rival South Carolina 38-3 to earn their sixth consecutive win in the series.

Clemson (12-0, 8-0 ACC) finished its regular season undefeated for a second straight year, adding to its now 27-game winning streak — the nation’s longest active overall win streak.

The Tigers’ sixth straight win over South Carolina (4-8, 3-5 SEC) made for their first such win streak since winning seven in a row from 1934-40.

Clemson’s first possession of the day ended with a failed fourth-down run by Etienne at the South Carolina goal line, tackled by Gamecocks senior linebacker T.J. Brunson to swing the early momentum to South Carolina.

But the Tigers quickly reclaimed it when Ryan Hilinski threw an interception to Derion Kendrick on South Carolina’s ensuing drive, which soon led to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to Tee Higgins for the first score of the day.

“I read the route the whole time — I knew what they were running — and I just waited on the quarterback to throw it,” Kendrick said.

Lawrence and Higgins hooked up for another score later in the first quarter when Lawrence found Higgins deep for a 65-yard touchdown. The junior caught three passes for 101 yards in the game and carried a game ball as he walked out of the postgame locker room.

“We came in knowing that the receivers were going to have to make plays,” Higgins said, “because they play a lot of man coverage, and we took advantage of it.”

Lawrence later found Justyn Ross for a 16-yard touchdown, and Ross led the Tigers’ receivers with nine catches for 111 yards on the day.

In all, Clemson’s offense racked up 527 yards of total offense, while South Carolina had 174 total yards — the Tigers’ 12th straight opponent below 300 yards of total offense to open the season. The Gamecocks were limited to just a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter to get on the scoreboard.

“I would say we had a pretty good day overall,” said linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who led the Tigers with 10 total tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. “We wanted a shutout, just because we haven’t had one all year. So, as well as we did today, there’s plenty more that we’ve got to clean up.”

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Clemson is the first team since at least 1996 to open a season by holding its first 12 opponents to 300 or fewer yards. Ohio State had held its first 11 opponents this year under 300 yards, but gave up 396 yards at Michigan on Saturday.

The Tigers have held 15 consecutive opponents to 20 or fewer points for the first time since a 31-game streak across the 1937-40 seasons under Hall of Fame coaches Jess Neely and Frank Howard.

On the ground Saturday, Clemson’s running backs weren’t as productive as normal, but the Tigers still racked up 211 rushing yards, led by Lawrence’s 66.

Etienne scored two second-half, short-yardage touchdowns to finish out Clemson’s scoring, and with the touchdowns broke the ACC records for career total TDs (57) and rushing TDs (53).

With Saturday’s win, and another unbeaten regular season, Etienne said Clemson has sent the message that it’s a force to be reckoned with — again.

“We’re here to stay,” Etienne said. “We just keep fighting, no matter what anyone may say about us. We just keep on truckin.”

Clemson is now looking to wrap up its fifth conference title in a row when it takes on Coastal Division champion Virginia (9-3, 6-2) in Saturday’s ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers locked up the first division title in school history with a win over rival Virginia Tech last week, becoming the seventh different Coastal team to advance to the conference championship game in the past seven years.

With a win, Clemson would be guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff for the fifth consecutive season, with the most likely possible opponents including Ohio State, LSU and Georgia, depending on what happens in the Big Ten and SEC championship games this weekend.