Clemson Football

A walk in the park

November 30, 2019
966

COLUMBIA -- Much of the chatter this week before the latest installment of the Palmetto Bowl was about Clemson’s pregame ritual known as the Walk of Champions.

Every game during warmups, around 30 minutes before kickoff, the Tigers would lock arms as a team and walk toward the end zone. The word this week around the state was that the walk was disrespectful, taunting, and put South Carolina’s student body in a bad spot.

The most hyped-up pregame warmup in rivalry history was fairly boring and uneventful, much like the game that was about to take place, except for the Tigers taking their sweet time making their way to the end zone. 

It ended up being the embodiment of what was about to transpire at high noon as both teams took the field - a walk in the park.

No. 3 Clemson strolled to a 38-3 victory over in-state rival South Carolina to win its sixth consecutive game in the series for the first time since World War II. The Tigers finished the regular season 12-0 for the fourth time in school history, the third time under Dabo Swinney.

The mood surrounding the game all week was one of little emotion. There was barely any juice as the Tigers continued their reign of dominance not only this season, but in this storied rivalry.

“Really proud of our team. This is an important game to everybody in our state… Proud of our guys to win six of these in a row,” Swinney said after the win. “Some of the individual things that happened today were incredible. It was the 150th win this decade. Only us, Alabama, and Ohio State have 115 wins in this decade and we’ve played (and beat) those teams this decade.”

The win marked Clemson’s seventh consecutive win this season by 30 points or more, the most in the AP Poll era. For the fourth year in a row, the Tigers beat South Carolina by at least 21 points, which neither team had ever done before.

Clemson’s offense walked all over South Carolina’s defense, gaining 527 yards total, while the defense stomped a Gamecocks offense stifled by injuries by holding them to 174 yards and only three points, the lowest scored for South Carolina in this game since a shutout in 1989.

Clemson Sports Talk
Baylon Spector hauls in former Clemson Tiger Tavien Feaster during the Tigers’ 38-3 win in Columbia.

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence was nails in another impressive outing, continuing to add to his legacy. The sophomore merely carried Clemson’s offense through the air, and maybe more impressively, on the ground.

Lawrence carved up South Carolina’s defense like grandma’s turkey on Thanksgiving, completing 26 of his 36 attempts for 295 yards and three touchdowns. At one point, Lawrence completed 18 consecutive passes to tie an ACC record for most consecutive completions in a single game. 

The sixteenth straight completions broke a Clemson record. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 66 yards on eight attempts.

And his stud receivers, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, look like they are playing at a whole different gear as the weeks go by. Higgins scored the first touchdown of the day, snagging a beautiful fade from Lawrence on third-and-9 from 10 yards out. The next drive, after three runs from Travis Etienne, Lawrence again stepped up in the pocket and threw a 65-yard bomb to Higgins that looked like it traveled 55 yards in the air for his second score. 

It was Higgins’ seventh score in the last four games.

Then there was Ross, who had a career-high nine catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. His route-running made South Carolina defensive backs look silly at times and it felt like he could get open whenever he wanted to.

Leading 14-3 and backed up deep in their own territory, Lawrence led Clemson on a 90-yard touchdown drive in nine plays. After a third-and-14 conversion to Higgins for 26 yards, Lawrence again faced a third-and-long situation.

This time, a low snap forced him to pluck the ball off the turf, read coverage, and fire another fade to Ross who was able to make the grab and drag his right toe in bounds. These are the plays we have gotten used to Lawrence making, the ones with focus and precision.

It was similar to the play at North Carolina State a few weeks ago when Lawrence dropped back to pass and almost slipped and fell. He managed to keep his eyes downfield, maintain his poise, and throw a laser beam to Ross for a touchdown.

There were also plenty of situations where Lawrence was able to make play after play on third down. For perspective, Clemson was 12-of-17 on third-down conversions. The Gamecocks had nine first downs in total.

During a timeout at some point on Saturday, Lawrence was roaming the sidelines and Swinney took his headset off to tell his quarterback how much fun he was having watching him play the position.

“The first big third down, the long run, they played a 4-man coverage that was basically a 2-man concept. That’s a tough coverage, but the weakness is if you got a quarterback that can run the ball,” Swinney said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does with his legs. That was the number one thing coming into this season, for him to grow he needed to be more productive with his legs.”

“The first big third down, the long run, they played a 4-man coverage that was basically a 2-man concept. That’s a tough coverage, but the weakness is if you got a quarterback that can run the ball,” Swinney said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does with his legs. That was the number one thing coming into this season, for him to grow he needed to be more productive with his legs.”

Lawrence, like the offense, is as steady as ever. He has now thrown three touchdown passes in seven consecutive games, which has never been done before in Clemson history.

Oh, by the way, Travis Etienne broke James Connor’s ACC record of 52 rushing touchdowns with two scores of his own. His second score from three yards out to put the Tigers up 38-3 left South Carolina fans in attendance waving the white flag.

But Swinney will tell you the story of the game was Clemson’s defense, again, forcing the issue to South Carolina all game long. Isaiah Simmons led Clemson with 10 tackles, seven solo and two of them for loss.

South Carolina’s offense only ran 53 plays and freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski looked out of sorts, passing for 105 yards on 16 completions. He also had an early interception when South Carolina had the only momentum it would have all day.

“Frustrating day to end a frustrating year,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said after the game with his season-ending 4-8 in his fourth season.

The feeling around this rivalry is that these two teams are moving in opposite directions - and it looks like things could potentially get worse before they get better.

On the Clemson side of things, its consistent play is now fully turned to the postseason. Time to play for another ACC crown in Charlotte against Virginia one week from now.

The Tigers have to feel good with where they are at, especially after rolling over their rival without breaking much of a sweat or having any sort of hitch in their step.

Especially after what was another walk in the park in 2019.

 
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