DEATH VALLEY, CLEMSON – USC is back on the winner’s side of the state championship. The Gamecocks had not tasted victory in the rivalry with Clemson since Steve Spurrier led them to a win in 2013. Over the next seven meetings, (2020 was skipped), the Tigers would dominate the series winning by an average score of 41-15. But the Gamecocks turned the tables on the 8th ranked Tigers Saturday. They didn’t put their hands on Howard’s Rock, but they got them all over the Palmetto Bowl Trophy.
Here’s the game story by Nikki Hood
While Clemson’s streak of seven in a row in the Palmetto Bowl and 40 consecutive wins at home came to an end, USC began a streak of its own beating back-to-back top-ten teams. The Gamecocks defeated eighth-ranked Clemson 31-30 Saturday afternoon in Death Valley to claim its first victory in the rivalry since 2013. The win came a week after the Gamecocks toppled 5th ranked Tennessee in Columbia.
The Gamecock offense was good once again, but the story of the game was Clemson’s turnovers. The Tigers turned the ball over three times, including an Antonio Williams fumble with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
Gamecock quarterback Spencer Rattler completed 25-of-39 passes for 360 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also ran for a score. South Carolina totaled 70 plays for 414 yards. Juice Wells was South Carolina’s leading receiver, with nine receptions for 131 yards.
Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei completed just eight passes for 99 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Will Shipley led Clemson’s offense with 15 carries for 132 yards and a score. The Tigers ran 66 plays for 336 total yards.
On the Gamecocks’ second possession, Rattler tried to dump a pass off to the tight end. Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. jumped the route like he was the intended receiver, intercepted the pass, and raced 35 yards for a pick-six. Clemson led 7-0 less than three minutes into the game.
Clemson got its ground game going later in the first quarter, with Shipley and Uiagalelei leading the way. On second-and-six at the Clemson 40, Uiagalelei threw the lead block that sprung Shipley loose for a 47-yard gain. Two plays later, Uiagalelei wiggled and waggled his way through Gamecock defenders for nine yards and a touchdown. The Tigers’ lead was 14-0 with 5:52 to play in the opening quarter.
On the 47-yard run, Shipley eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season, becoming the 23rd Clemson player to reach the milestone.
USC scored its first touchdown against Clemson since 2018 early in the second quarter.
The Gamecocks had good field position starting near midfield. Rattler found Nate Adkins in the middle of the field for a 32-yard gain to the Clemson 19-yard line. Jalen Brooks found the edge for 15 yards to the two-yard line. Four plays later, Rattler hit Antwane Wells, Jr. in the back of the endzone breaking South Carolina’s nine-plus quarter touchdown-less streak and cutting Clemson’s lead to 14-7 with 13:59 to play before halftime.
Clemson punter Aidan Swanson booted a 52-yard punt that went out of bounds at the two-yard line. On the next play, Ruke Orhorhoro forced Rattler to get rid of the ball. The Gamecocks were flagged for intentional grounding in the endzone, resulting in a safety to make it a 16-7 Clemson advantage with just over 10 minutes to play before halftime.
On the ensuing kickoff, Clemson attempted some trickeration with the returners huddling after Shipley fielded the ball. Mafah emerged with the ball but fumbled, giving the Gamecocks the ball on the 35-yard line. Four plays later, Rattler found pay dirt to cut Clemson’s lead to 16-14 with 8:14 to go before intermission.
The Tigers answered on their next possession. Beaux Collins got a step on the defender, and Uiagalelei hit him in stride for a 59-yard catch and run. Two plays later, Uiagalelei found Antonio Williams running free in the endzone for an 11-yard touchdown to extend Clemson’s lead to 23-14 at the 6:14 mark in the second quarter.
Clemson’s defense thought it would get off the field after a three-and-out, but on fourth-and-one, Juju McDowell beat Andrew Mukuba off the line, and Rattler threw the perfect pass for a 65-yard catch and run to the Clemson one. After Dakereon Joyner was unsuccessful running the ball, the Gamecocks went back to the air. RJ Mickens came flying into the play to pick off the pass in the endzone, thwarting South Carolina’s scoring attempt.
Clemson went three-and-out to open the third quarter, but South Carolina’s offense came out firing. Ahmarean Brown returned Swanson’s punt 37 yards to the 26-yard line. On third-and-four, Joyner hit Adkins for 18 yards, and on the ensuing play, Bell plunged into the endzone from two yards out for a Gamecock touchdown to cut Clemson’s lead to 23-21 at the 12:06 mark in the third quarter.
The Tigers’ defense forced a three-and-out capped off with a KJ Henry sack, and after a 23-yard return by Antonio Williams, Clemson began its drive on the South Carolina 47. Clemson once again leaned on its ground game. Mafah got the drive started with an 18-yard run, Kobe Pace hit back-to-back four-yard gains, and Shipley finished the drive with an 11-yard rumble to the endzone for a 30-21 Clemson lead with 4:35 to play in the third quarter.
South Carolina answered in just two plays when Rattler dropped a dime to Well, Jr for a 72-yard catch and run to the endzone to once again cut Clemson’s margin to two at 30-28 with 3:45 to go in the third quarter.
South Carolina took its first lead in the rivalry since 2018 at 31-30 with 10:54 remaining on a 35-yard field goal by Mitch Jeter.
South Carolina will await its bowl destination while Clemson heads to Charlotte to take on North Carolina in the ACC Championship.