CLEMSON — There was hope in Columbia for eight minutes.

It took Clemson until the 6:58 mark of the first quarter Saturday to score its first touchdown at South Carolina, the second-longest amount of time its taken to do so this season.

From there the Tigers piled it on in a 38-3 win over the Gamecocks to wrap up an undefeated regular season.

A critic could point to Clemson's weak strength schedule — the program ranks No. 66 nationally in the metric, per Steve Sagarin's ratings — and dismiss this season as unimpressive.

But to do so would be myopic and ignorant to what Clemson has accomplished. The Tigers have now won seven games in a row by 30 or more points, which ties 2011 Houston and 1976 Michigan for the longest streak in the AP Top 25 Poll era.

"Our program and our team takes pride in these types of games," coach Dabo Swinney said. "Take pride in every single game."

That was evident Saturday. Here are seven takeaways from yet another Clemson blowout: 

Trevor Lawrence is playing his best football of the season

Trevor Lawrence's early-season struggles are long gone. The sophomore quarterback was brilliant again Saturday, finishing 26-of-36 passing for 295 yards for three touchdowns and extending his games without an interception streak to five.

He also rushed for a career-high 66 yards on eight carries.

His final touchdown pass gave him 30 for the season, tying his mark from last season. He's now the third Clemson quarterback to throw at least 30 touchdown passes in multiple seasons, joining Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson.

"That's been our thing the whole year, is we don't want to peak at the beginning of the year," Lawrence said. "We want to get better and better."

So far, mission accomplished. 

Clemson's defense exudes confidence

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables' unit was once again dominant. The Gamecocks' lone points came on a field goal midway through the second quarter.

The Tigers have held all 12 of their opponents this season below 300 yards of total offense, and they've held 10 straight opponents below 200 passing yards.

"Probably the hardest thing to do is to play at a real high level consistently," Venables said. "It's very difficult. So, it's reflective of the kind of season we're having."

Success breeds confidence, and the Tigers' defense is feeling good entering the postseason. 

Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross shine

Clemson's top two wide receivers had big performances Saturday. 

Junior Tee Higgins caught three passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore Justyn Ross recorded nine catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

"He's been great all year," Swinney said of Ross.

So has Higgins. In hauling in his 10th touchdown of the season, the junior became the first player in program history to record double-digit touchdowns receptions in consecutive campaigns; he had 12 last season. 

Isaiah Simmons deserves recognition

Linebacker Isaiah Simmons is a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik award, given annually to the best defensive player in the nation.

Simmons on Saturday showed why he's earned such high praise this season. He finished with 10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack and a pass breakup.

The junior is a projected lottery selection in the 2020 NFL draft and has been the best player on the Tigers' defense, helping to extinguish fears that surrounded this unit before the season.

Palmetto Bowl hardly feels like a rivalry

Clemson's 35-point margin of victory Saturday marked the Tigers' seventh-largest in program history. Coach Dabo Swinney's team has now won the annual rivalry game the past six seasons, with the last four by at least 21 points.

Based on on-field production, it's starting to feel less like a rivalry and more like an annual contest between two programs in the same state.

Travis Etienne will be used more going forward

In addition to his regular duties in the backfield, running back Travis Etienne returned two kicks Saturday. It was the first time he did so since 2017, when he returned 19 kicks for 389 yards.

Swinney described Etienne as one of the team's most dangerous players with the ball in his hands, and the Tigers will look to maximize Etienne's exposure as competition tightens in the postseason.

Favorable matchup against Virginia in ACC Championship 

Clemson (12-0, 8-0 ACC) will play Virginia (9-3, 6-2) in the ACC Championship game on Saturday in Charlotte. The Cavaliers, who clinched the ACC Coastal Division title by beating Virginia Tech on Friday, are the fifth different team to challenge the Tigers in the conference title game in five seasons.

Swinney's team is favored to win by 28 points, and for good reason. The Tigers were hardly challenged in the regular season, while the Cavaliers needed to fight until the end. 

Last season, Clemson dispatched Pitt 42-10 in the ACC title game. A similar result this weekend would hardly be surprising. 

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.