South Carolina has eliminated another team from College Football Playoff contention. And this time, it was the Gamecocks’ biggest rival.
A week after demolishing No. 5 Tennessee at home, South Carolina went on the road and shocked No. 8 Clemson, 31-30. With the win, South Carolina snapped a seven-game losing streak in the series, ended Clemson’s 40-game winning streak at home and put an end to the Tigers’ playoff dreams.
Clemson entered the day with a 10-1 record with the ACC title game coming next week. Now, with a second loss, Clemson is almost certainly eliminated from contention for the four-team playoff.
Clemson controlled play early, but was never able to put South Carolina away. The Tigers took an early 14-0 lead and led 23-14 at the half, but the offense struggled mightily in the second half.
Six of Clemson’s seven second-half drives gained fewer than 25 yards. Five led to a punt, and another culminated with an ugly interception thrown by quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. There was also a six-play, 47-yard touchdown drive mixed in, but it wasn’t enough to fend off a pesky South Carolina group.
As Clemson’s offense struggled, South Carolina chipped away at the lead. By the 10:54 mark of the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks had taken a 31-30 lead. And with Uiagalelei and the Tigers unable to throw, Clemson just could not get the lead back.
The Gamecocks gained more than 400 yards in the win, led by a 360-yard passing effort from Spencer Rattler, but special teams played a major role in South Carolina’s comeback.
South Carolina’s special teams units forced two fumbles — one on a Clemson kickoff return, another on a punt return. One led to a touchdown, and the other allowed South Carolina to run out the clock in the final minutes. There was also a long punt return that gave the Gamecocks a short field to set up another touchdown and three Kai Kroger punts were downed inside the Clemson 3-yard line.
The special teams advantage on the South Carolina side was a major key to the upset, as were the struggles of Uiagalelei and the Clemson passing attack. Uiagalelei had a miserable day, completing just 8-of-29 passes for 99 yards, a touchdown and a costly late-game interception. Clemson actually ran the ball fairly well, but the lack of a passing threat made Clemson easy to defend as the game progressed.
Now Clemson will limp into the ACC title game at 10-2, but the questions about the program from a bigger picture perspective will also creep back up to the surface — just like they did after the Notre Dame loss earlier this season.
South Carolina, meanwhile, finishes the regular season at 8-4 in Shane Beamer's second season leading the program.