Clemson gave South Carolina chances to pull one of those only-in-a-rivalry-game stunners, but the No. 1 Tigers were too much for the three-win Gamecocks, pulling out a 37-32 win in Columbia.
Clemson lost fumbles near midfield on two of its first three possessions, but South Carolina achieved only a three-and-out and a missed field goal on the two following touches.
The Tigers then broke the game open by scoring touchdowns on their next four non-clock killing possessions, scoring on a pair of Deshaun Watson runs (from five and 30 yards out), a 55-yard Watson strike to Deon Cain and a four-yard C.J. Fuller plunge, turning a scoreless tie into a 28-10 blowout late in the third quarter.
But South Carolina climbed back in the game, first on a 57-yard heave from Perry Orth to Pharoh Cooper and then, after a Clemson fumble, a one-yard Shon Carson run. Lorenzo Nunez‘s two-point conversion made the score 28-25 with 12:19 remaining.
Watson answered by driving Clemson 75 yards in 10 plays, ending the push with his third scoring run of the day — this time from three yards out.
South Carolina (3-9) could not muster a second rally, going three-and-out on the ensuing possession and then turning the ball over on downs at its own 25 with 1:28 remaining to end any hope of a comeback. Greg Huegel added a 36-yard field goal for Clemson with 1:22 remaining, and South Carolina posted a cosmetic touchdown pass from Orth to Deebo Samuel with one tick left on the clock.
Watson closed the day with Heisman-like numbers, hitting 20-of-27 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while rushing 21 rushes for 114 yards and three touchdowns. Wayne Gallman added 19 carries for 102 yards, and the Tigers out-gained the ‘Cocks 515-402 while holding a 26-17 first downs advantage.
The win moves Clemson to 12-0 on the season — its first 12-0 record since claiming the 1981 national championship — heading into an ACC Championship showdown with once-beaten and 14th-ranked North Carolina next Saturday in Charlotte.
The win also ends Clemson’s three-game losing streak at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers beat the cross-state Gamecocks in back-to-back years for the first time since 2007-08 and extended their all-time lead to 67-42-4 in a series dating back to 1896.