"Never Again" Happens Again: Tigers rout Gamecocks

by - Senior Writer -

COLUMBIA – Never Again happened again.

No. 3 Clemson ran over and through over arch-rival No. 24 South Carolina en route to a 34-10 rout over the Gamecocks, Clemson’s fourth consecutive win in the series. The Tigers improve to 11-1 overall and will face Miami in next Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.

The Gamecocks finish the regular season 8-4 and will head to a bowl game.

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley told the media in May that he didn’t believe Clemson was much better than the Gamecocks, even after last season’s 56-7 shellacking in Clemson, and social media came alive with the “Never Again” mantra. The Tigers made a liar out of Bentley, outgaining the Gamecocks 469-207. Most of South Carolina's yards came after the game was well in hand.

Quarterback Kelly Bryant finished the night 23-of-34 for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Tee Higgins had three catches for 84 yards and Hunter Renfrow had four catches for 75 yards.

Clemson has won 42 of its last 45 games, dating back to 2014. Clemson is 15-1 at night over the last two years with seven of the wins coming over top 20 teams. Clemson has won 55 straight games when holding the opposition under 23 points (dates to 2010). Clemson has 69 wins over South Carolina, the most over any opponent in school history.

“Well, that was fun. I’m really happy for our team," head Dabo Swinney said about his 100th win. "I’m really happy for our staff and certainly our fans. We all know how important this game is and it’s great to be state champs – that’s for sure. South Carolina is a good football team, they’ve had a heck of a year. Much, much improved. Will [Muschamp] has done a great job, and we knew it was going to be a hard fought game but I’m really proud of our guys for showing up and being ready. Every week for us is a playoff mentality, that’s just the way it is. To see our guys embrace that is pretty special. I love the chemistry of our team and the leadership of our team, because they all know every single week it’s all in.

“It’s everything you’ve got and to see them embrace that is pretty special. First time in the history of Clemson to go on the road and beat four ranked teams in the regular season – that’s not easy to do. Especially when you look at this team and you look at all that we had to replace, I’m just proud of these guys and how they’ve responded and how they’ve hung in there and competed all year long. Four our seniors, that’s four in a row for those guys what a great accomplishment. Again this is something that’s important to both sides and it’s really hard to do so I’m really happy for those guys to leave here. I think that senior group tied the school record for wins today and a chance to set the record next week and maybe for an ACC record – I’m not sure."

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said his team missed too many opportunities.

“I’m extremely disappointed. We started the game with a miscommunication of receiver and quarterback and throw a pick for a touchdown," Muschamp said. "Third down killed us on their first offensive touchdown. We don’t get off the field for an 80-yard drive. There were opportunities there. (We) start the second half and miss four or five tackles on a simple bubble screen. There were some simple things that we need to do well in this game, and we did not. Offensively, it was hard to get anything going until late, so I’m disappointed with that. Their front four affected us in the run and pass game. We give them credit for that. We just got beat. You can’t beat yourself against a good football team, and we had too many self-inflicted issues tonight that caused issues for us. We had nine penalties for the first time. We haven’t had nine penalties in the last four or five games combined. I’m disappointed with the showing tonight.”

The teams traded early punts, and South Carolina’s second possession started at its own one. The Gamecocks picked up three yards on first down, but Bentley was intercepted on the second. Bentley dropped into the end zone and it looked like he thought receiver Bryan Edwards was going to run a curl or hook, but Edwards continued upfield. Ryan Carter stepped in front of the pass and waltzed into the end zone from 12 yards out for a 7-0 lead. Clemson has scored a non-offensive touchdown in every road game this season.

The return was the shortest interception return for a touchdown in Clemson history. The previous was 15 yards by Carlos Watkins against Appalachian St. in 2015.

Both offenses failed to generate any success through the rest of the first quarter and part of the second quarter. Following another South Carolina punt, however, the Tigers finally got an offensive touchdown. Bryant completed a 23-yard pass to Etienne and a 24-yarder to Tee Higgins on third down that kept the drive alive. The Gamecocks lost their composure and committed three penalties in a span of five plays and Tavien Feaster bowled in from the one to make it 14-0 with 8:12 to play in the half.

The Tigers forced another three-and-out and after the Gamecock punt took over at their own 21. Clemson marched methodically down the field, but it was a 40-yard pass from Bryant to Higgins that set up the score. Three plays later, Bryant rolled out to his right (same play as the game-winner against Bama in January) and looked for Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow broke back to the middle and Bryant hit him to complete the four-yard score. The extra point was missed and Clemson 20-0 with 1:59 to play in the half.

Etienne returned the opening kickoff of the second half 39 yards, and it took the Tigers exactly one play to make the Gamecocks pay. Bryant hit Renfrow in the flat and Renfrow weaved and juked his way through the Gamecock defense for a 61-yard touchdown reception, the longest reception of his career. Twenty-one seconds into the second half, Clemson led 27-0.

The Gamecocks punted yet again, but Clemson failed to get any traction and looked to be facing a punt of their own when a flag was thrown on South Carolina for unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead of a punt, the Tigers had a first down and Etienne made them pay with a five-yard scoring run that made it 34-0.

Bryant threw an interception on the next drive, and the Gamecocks turned into a 40-yard field goal that made it 34-3 with 13:21 to play. The Gameocks added a garbage-time touchdown against a bevy of Clemson reserves.

Clemson and Miami will kick it off at 8 pm. next Saturday in Bank of America Stadium.

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