Columbia, SC – Fourteen plays into a methodical opening drive – one last chance for Etienne to power into the end zone at the heart of the student section. BT Potter walked onto the field for the kick, but Coach Swinney called him off, calling Etienne’s number. the third consecutive time, Etienne was stopped for no gain.
Hillinski responded by throwing a 21-yard dart to Shi Smith in the middle of the field, hoping to catch Clemson off guard through the air. Derion Kendrick snatched the optimism from South Carolina fans with his interception and 14-yard return to the red-zone a few plays later.
No run game? No problem when you have the best quarterback and the deepest receiving corps in the nation.
Ten-yard fade to Higgins for the first touchdown, 65-yard seam splitting bomb to Tee again for the second.
While Clemson adjusted on their second drive, the Gamecocks didn’t adjust until the second quarter and a 14-0 deficit later.
South Carolina transformed the next drive by channeling their inner Boston College. A plethora of quarterbacks, running backs, and wildcat formations graced Williams Brice stadium as the underdogs lulled Clemson to sleep before a surprise 30-yard seam pass to Kyle Markaway.
Not to be outdone, Muschamp subsequently shot himself in the foot by calling a time-out on third and nine just to run the ball up the middle in no-man’s territory. Parker White nailed the 49-yard field goal for three points and dignity, but the damage was done.
Eight of Clemson’s next nine plays were complete passes from Trevor Lawrence as the Tigers marched their way 90 yards down the field by rightfully abandoning the run and exploiting the obvious mismatch.
Initially ruled out of bounds, Justyn Ross’ corner-of-the-end zone catch was ruled a touchdown to break the Tiger scoring drought and go up 21-3. After a three-and-out, a one-minute aerial attack by Lawrence and company gave BT Potter the opportunity to drill a 46-yard field goal and go up 24-3 at half.
The third quarter was not defined by the football – one Clemson touchdown and one promising (but scoreless) Gamecock drive were the bright spots in an uneventful quarter. Unfortunately, Jackson carman was caught in a rash of real-time injuries across the nation – as Carman, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and Georgia’s DeAndre Swift were down within two minutes of real-time play.
Immediately after the Carman injury scare, Jordan McFadden was inserted at tackle and Clemson marched down the field for another Etienne touchdown. With a 38-3 lead intact, Chase Brice entered the game.
Lawrence threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns while at one point completing an ACC record 18 straight passes. He complemented his efforts through the air with 66 yards on the ground and finished as among the leading rushers of the game.
Despite Clemson’s early struggles on the ground, they finished with over 200 yards on the ground and over 300 yards in the air. Most impressive was their 12 for 17 effort on third down and Lawrence’s 18 straight completed passes.
Isaiah Simmons led the dominant defensive effort with ten tackles (two for loss), a sack, and a pass breakup. Clemson held South Carolina to 174 total yards of offense and 5-15 on third down.
While the final score was no 70-0 massacre, the outcome was never in doubt as Clemson suffocated the Gamecocks with their patented death grip. Next up? Virginia in Charlotte – the 7th Coastal Champion in seven years, and the sixth championship opponent of Coach Swinney’s tenure.