COLUMBIA — South Carolina provided the Clemson Tigers with little more than a minor speed bump Saturday on their way to next week's ACC Championship Game and what most believe will be a fifth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Trevor Lawrence threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns to lead third-ranked Clemson past South Carolina 38-3 before a crowd of 80,580, which by the end of the fourth quarter had more orange-clad Tigers fans than Gamecocks supporters at Williams-Brice Stadium.
With the victory, the Tigers (12-0) finished the regular season undefeated for the eighth time in school history and the third under coach Dabo Swinney.
Clemson has the nation’s longest active winning streak at 27 games and has won six in a row against South Carolina, the second longest streak in a 117-game series that began in 1896.
The Tigers lead the overall series 71-42-4.
Clemson heads into the ACC title game against Virginia in Charlotte as a heavy favorite to capture its fifth straight league title.
“To win six of these in a row hasn’t happened in 79 or 80 years, and that’s a long time,” Swinney said. “It was a great day today. I’m just really proud of our team and the way we played today.”
Without leading wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who underwent knee surgery 10 days ago, the Gamecocks offense was anemic at best, and predictable throughout the game.
South Carolina managed just 174 yards of total offense. It was the 12th consecutive game this season that the Tigers have kept an opponent under 300 yards of total offense.
“That’s 15 games in a row that we’ve held the opponent to 20 points or less and 12 games with less than 300 yards,” Swinney said. “That hasn’t happened since 1937, and I’m not sure they had the forward pass in 1937. It’s incredible what our defense has done and did today. It was a tremendous job by our defense.
"We gave up one big play, but other than that played really well. This defense is ahead of where we were last year.”
Even the addition of former Clemson running back Tavien Feaster didn’t help the Gamecocks' cause. The graduate transfer rushed for 47 yards on 12 attempts.
“We needed some big plays and didn’t get them,” Feaster said. “We came up short on a few plays, and against a really good team, you can’t do that. We just didn’t come out and execute.”
The Gamecocks, who will not go to a bowl for the first time since 2015, finished the season at 4-8.
Third down difference
The Gamecocks' defense had plenty of chances to get off the field on third down Saturday, but Lawrence was either able to make plays with his legs or his right arm. The Tigers converted on six of eight third-down opportunities.
“Third down killed us in the first half defensively,” said South Carolina coach Will Muschamp.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and drove the ball 64 yards to the Gamecocks' 1-yard line. Four times the Tigers called on Etienne to finish off the drive and four times the Gamecocks stopped him short of the goal line.
USC took over on downs and quarterback Ryan Hilinski then threw for a 21-yard gain out of his own end on the Gamecocks' first play from scrimmage.
That was about as good as it got for South Carolina the rest of the day. Two plays later, Clemson's Derion Kendrick intercepted a Hilinski pass. The Tigers scored four plays later when Lawrence connected with Tee Higgins for the first of his two TD receptions.
“Huge play for DK with the interception,” Swinney said. “They stopped us down on the goal line and the crowd was really into it.”
The Tigers will face Virginia (9-3) in the ACC Championship Game next Saturday (7:30 p.m.) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“You can see them coming on,” Swinney said of Virginia. “ Bronco (Mendelhall) really has them playing well.”