Clemson's College Football Playoff hopes dashed by rival South Carolina in 31-30 loss

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.

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) tries to pass the ball over Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy (98) on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

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.