CLEMSON – South Carolina is especially glad to be heading to a bowl game now. The Gamecocks certainly don’t want what happened in Clemson on Saturday night to be their final taste of the 2016 season.
The No. 4 Tigers demolished South Carolina 56-7 in front of 81,542 fans in Memorial Stadium, topping their rivals for the third straight time on their way to playing Virginia Tech in the ACC title game and then perhaps in the CFB Playoff. The Gamecocks (6-6) will now wait to learn their bowl destination, which will be determined by Dec. 4.
South Carolina and Clemson players got into a brief confrontation 80 minutes before kickoff in one corner of the field, but that was as much fight as the Gamecocks could manage Saturday. They were outgained 380-52 in the first half and trailed 35-0 at halftime.
By the end, the Tigers had their second-highest point total and second-largest margin of victory in series history. Clemson outgained South Carolina 622 yards to 218 yards. It was the worst output allowed this season by the Gamecocks defense and the second-worst production of the season for the Gamecocks offense. The Tigers yardage, and their 41 first downs, were series records.
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Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, playing the final home game of his career, tied his school’s single-game record for touchdown passes with six. He recorded the 100th touchdown of his collegiate career in the first quarter, hitting wide receiver Mike Williams for a 19-yard touchdown that put the Tigers ahead 14-0. Watson, a junior, is only the third player in ACC history to hit that milestone.
The Tigers added their third touchdown of the game later in the quarter, an 11-yard grab by Jordan Leggett that put them up 21-0 with 2:05 left in the first quarter. Clemson outgained South Carolina 226-7 in the game’s first 15 minutes. Clemson added two more scores in the second quarter – one on an 8-yard run by Wayne Gallman with 3:06 left in the first half that put the Tigers up 28-0 and another on a 16-yard catch by Williams with :08 left in the first half.
Watson became the first Clemson quarterback to throw six touchdown passes in a game against South Carolina and finished with 347 yards on 26-of-32 passing. He was pulled in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks benched starting quarterback Jake Bentley at halftime, inserting Brandon McIlwain. Bentley finished the game 7-for-17 for 41 yards, no touchdowns at one interception. It was his worst performance since taking over the starting job midway through the season.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called back-to-back timeouts in the fourth quarter to get Watson and several starters back on the field briefly so they could receive a final ovation from the home fans.
Already trailing 14-0 and looking for its first, first down midway through the first quarter, South Carolina called a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from its 30-yard line. Upback Hayden Hurst took a direct snap and then looked for an open receiver. When he didn’t see one, he ran but was stopped after a 2-yard gain. Clemson scored on the ensuing possession to take a 21-0 lead.
Star of the game: The Gamecocks will be happy to see Watson go. In three career games against South Carolina, Clemson’s junior quarterback amassed 1,041 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing and passing. He was also 3-0.
Stat of the game: South Carolina averaged .8 yards on 14 first half carries. For the night, the Gamecocks rushed for 111 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
Direct communication: Wary of their sideline signals being deciphered by the Tigers, the Gamecocks had Bentley jog to the sideline before each play in order to hear the play call directly from a coach. The secrecy didn’t help. When McIlwain was inserted in the second half, South Carolina went back to signaling in plays from the sideline.