Clemson first thoughts: Tigers play their best against rival South Carolina, shutout provides satisfying finale (2024)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Initial thoughts and observations from Clemson’s 30-0 victory Saturday at rival South Carolina:

Clemson entered Saturday night knowing it would be unable to compete for a seventh consecutive ACC championship after NC State beat North Carolina on Friday night and Wake Forest beat Boston College on Saturday afternoon. But the Tigers said all week that the ACC standings wouldn’t impact the way they played against the Gameco*cks. And for as rocky of a season as it’s been at times for Clemson, coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers have now won seven consecutive games against the Gameco*cks for the first time since 1934-1940. Clemson finishes the regular season 9-3 — and with a shutout, no less.


“That was Clemson football tonight,” Swinney said. “We’re playing our best football.”

The shutout marked Clemson’s first against the Gameco*cks since 1989. Clemson has now shut out South Carolina 23 times in program history, with each coming in Columbia, S.C.

Junior cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. proved the most captivating player on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium. Booth nearly had an interception late in the first quarter and looked beside himself when he bobbled the ball and couldn’t hang on. But two plays later, Booth picked off Gameco*cks quarterback Jason Brown at the South Carolina 13 on third-and-10. In the second quarter, Brown went deep and Booth picked him off at the Clemson 1-yard line for Booth’s second INT. It seems likely the Tigers’ top cornerback will declare for the NFL Draft. His performance Saturday only raised his stock.

Clemson dominated on the ground the previous week against Wake Forest, and the Tigers used a similar formula against the Gameco*cks. Clemson ran for 265 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry for the second consecutive week. Freshman Will Shipley had 19 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown, including a 29-yard scoring run on the Tigers’ opening drive. Sophom*ore Kobe Pace added seven carries and 58 yards with a 34-yard touchdown in which he maneuvered through contact, then beat the Gameco*cks defenders in a foot race. Sophom*ore quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, whom Swinney said won’t be healthy until after the season, also had a big run on third-and-11 for 22 yards that set up Shipley’s touchdown.

“There’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than to have the ball run on you,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.

Clemson’s running backs have hit their stride down the stretch after Lyn-J Dixon and Michel Dukes transferred earlier this season. Shipley didn’t get into details but said during the week that coach C.J. Spiller’s unit may have dealt with some jealousy when several players were competing for carries. Now that Clemson is in a rhythm with Shipley and Pace as a one-two punch and freshman Phil Mafah backing them up, the Tigers have found somewhat of an identity on offense — something they had lacked.


“Obviously that was my baby for 10 years,” Elliott said of formerly coaching the running backs before moving to tight ends this season. “But to watch C.J. step in there and just be who he is and galvanize relationships with those guys … it’s so awesome to watch.

“That was a tough situation for C.J. walking in.”

In sticking with the run game, Clemson didn’t need to throw much. Uiagalelei finished the night 9-of-19 for 99 yards, no touchdowns and his ninth interception of the season, a ball South Carolina defensive back Cam Smith covered well and came down with against Beaux Collins. On some of Uiagalelei’s throws, Clemson’s receivers didn’t make a play; Collins looked like he didn’t see a ball on third-and-8 when he didn’t turn his head around in time. Clemson again played without wide receivers Justyn Ross, Frank Ladson Jr., Joseph Ngata and E.J. Williams. But midway through the first half, it became clear that Uiagalelei wouldn’t need to beat the Gameco*cks through the air.

“We knew we were going to have to run,” Elliott said. “You look at the breakdown of South Carolina’s defense, they’re top 15 in pass defense.Obviously (Uiagalelei’s) numbers weren’t as high as what they were in the past, but I thought he managed the game efficiently.”

Despite winning big, Clemson still missed too many opportunities. After Uiagalelei threw the interception, Clemson’s defense again bailed him out by forcing a three-and-out. Kai Kroeger managed only a 26-yard punt, which put Clemson on the South Carolina 40. But Clemson couldn’t cash in after the Tigers were flagged for an illegal formation and Uiagalelei and Collins couldn’t link up downfield on third down.

One drive later, after Booth’s interception put Clemson on the South Carolina 13-yard line, the Tigers had to settle for a field goal. The underwhelming sequence: Uiagalelei rushed for a loss of 3 yards, Shipley picked up 4 yards and Shipley bobbled a screen pass. Out came senior kicker BT Potter for a 29-yard field goal attempt.


Later in the half, Clemson went for it on fourth-and-1 on the South Carolina 36 but turned the ball over on downs after taking a shot downfield. Clemson ended up with nothing to show for the drive, which included a pass play from Uiagalelei to freshman wide receiver Dacari Collins for 37 yards. Elliott took the blame, admitting he tried to outsmart South Carolina.

Clemson won despite going 3-of-12 on third down, the fourth time this season the Tigers converted less than 25 percent of their third-down opportunities.

Clemson’s defense wreaked havoc on South Carolina. The Gameco*cks had no answers, mustering 12 yards and no first downs in the first quarter. South Carolina went three-and-out four times, punted six times, turned the ball over on downs three times and threw two interceptions. The Gameco*cks ran for just 43 yards, marking the third consecutive game Clemson has held its opponent to fewer than 50 yards on the ground — including UConn’s minus-21 yards. Saturday also marked the fourth time in five games opponents totaled fewer than 70 rushing yards. To celebrate the shutout, Clemson will have Krispy Kreme donuts and ZERO bars on Monday.

“We’ve got 40-plus sacks and we lead the country since the Playoff era in sacks, and we’ve had a bunch of great defenses,” Swinney said. “But we ain’t had one shut these guys out.”

South Carolina made a quarterback switch in the second half, swapping out Brown for Zeb Noland. Noland proved to be a slight improvement, going 11-of-22 for 96 yards to Brown’s 67 yards on 8-of-19 passing. But it didn’t matter.

Potter continues to have the best season of his career. Potter missed three field goals against Florida State, but he has otherwise been a consistent option for the Tigers. Potter hit field goals of 29, 47 and 49 yards Saturday. He has made 19 of 23 attempts for the season (82.6 percent).

While Wake Forest and Pitt meet in the ACC title game next week, the Tigers await their bowl selection. The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel currently projects Clemson to play in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Fla., against Kansas State. In the meantime, Swinney and his staff will hit the road recruiting while players take final exams. Swinney again praised his team from turning a 2-2 record in September into seven wins in the last eight games.


“As I’ve said many times, if there’s one positive (from 2021) I hope will come from this, (it’s) everybody having an appreciation for winning,” he said. “We’re not entitled to win, and I know we’re expected to win, but I hope that there will be a reset on the appreciation of winning.”

(Photo of Will Shipley (1) and teammates: Jeff Blake / USA Today)

Clemson first thoughts: Tigers play their best against rival South Carolina, shutout provides satisfying finale (1)Clemson first thoughts: Tigers play their best against rival South Carolina, shutout provides satisfying finale (2)

Grace Raynor is a staff writer for The Athletic covering recruiting and southeastern college football. A native of western North Carolina, she graduated from the University of North Carolina. Follow Grace on Twitter @gmraynor

Clemson first thoughts: Tigers play their best against rival South Carolina, shutout provides satisfying finale (2024)


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