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South Carolina Gamecocks report card: Clemson edition

Down go the Tigers!

South Carolina v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Apparently South Carolina was not done playing spoiler for schools in the College Football Playoff hunt.

Just one week after a shocking blowout of Tennessee, the Gamecocks took down the previously eighth-ranked Clemson Tigers by the score of 31-30.

You can kiss Clemson’s seven-game Palmetto Bowl winning streak goodbye.

This win also makes Shane Beamer the first coach in Gamecock history with back-to-back victories over teams ranked in the top 10. Not bad for a coach in just his second season!

The best part? Anyone but a Clemson fan would agree this game probably should have been even more lopsided.

Darius Rush dropped a likely pick-six on South Carolina’s first defensive drive of the game, Spencer Rattler actually threw a pick-six during the team’s second drive to give Clemson seven free points, and don’t get me started on the backwards pass that wasn’t, which ended up not giving South Carolina what should have been seven points but actually gifted the Tigers two points from what ended up being a safety after Clemson punted the ball and pinned the Cocks deep in their own territory. A nine-point swing.

I know I’m only preaching to the choir here, but you be the judge.

Anyway, the Gamecocks played top-tier football for two weeks in a row and this time, they did it on the road.

Time for some grades!

Offensive Grade: A

I don’t care how blindly optimistic one can be, the offensive turnaround I have witnessed this team make over the past two games should be studied.

How can South Carolina fail to score any offensive points on Florida — one of the worst defenses in the SEC — but hang 63 on Tennessee then 31 on Clemson’s elite defense?

The Gamecocks didn’t even score their points the way I thought they were going to!

Clemson’s defense showed a bit of a weak spot toward opposing backs in recent weeks, so I expected Marshawn Lloyd to have one of his classic games. I guess Clemson was thinking the same thing I was as they went all in on stopping the run, holding Lloyd to only 16 yards rushing on 11 carries.

Luckily, the passing game was working in lieu of the ground game, which saw Rattler throw for 360 yards and two touchdowns to continue his heater from the previous week.

Both of those touchdowns and 131 of those yards were thanks to Antwane “Juice” Wells, who has developed into his unquestioned top target.

Of those 131 yards, 72 came on this touchdown late in the fourth quarter, which was also the longest score Clemson had given up all year.

This game also featured some nice production from the unlikely source that is Nate Adkins.

He had combined for 28 yards on four receptions coming into the Clemson game, but what did he do in this one? Balled!

Adkins caught four balls for 62 yards, including this INSANE grab toward the end of the first quarter that — in my opinion — really kickstarted the offense at a time when it was struggling to get going.

If this is it for Rattler and company for the year (please run it back in 2023), it definitely ended on a high note.

Defensive Grade: B+

“But the defense gave up 30 points!”

No, the defense gave up 21 points due to scores on a pick-six and safety, which is actually the second best performance against the Tigers all year next to Notre Dame.

And we all know DJ Uiagalelei is not some A-list quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, but the Cocks still held him to under 100 passing yards, the first team to do so all year.

His completion percentage was a disgusting 28%, and it’s not like Uiagalelei only threw it a few times either. He completed only eight attempts out of 29, not to mention a not so well-timed pick with 6:37 left to play in the fourth quarter (which you can watch below).

When the game kicked off, I was obviously scared of how South Carolina was going to defend the run, first and foremost. The Cocks immediately gave up 76 rushing yards to Will Shipley over Clemson’s first two drives, and I thought it was going to be one of those days.

Thankfully, the defense adjusted, holding him to only 56 yards the rest of the way as they threw more men in the box with the plan of forcing DJU to beat them... and he didn’t.

Anyway, this unit did its job and helped the team leave with a victory.

Special Teams Grade: A+

I don’t know where to start, honestly.

This may have been the best special teams performance for South Carolina on the year, and that is insane considering we’ve seen kick returns, punt blocks and fake punts turned passing touchdowns among other things in multiple games before.

Anyway, Mitch Jeter made his only field goal attempt on the day from 35 yards out, which means he finished the regular season without missing a kick! No matter the distance, kicking is a mind game, and I’m impressed he kept himself cool and composed for all 10 of them.

He wasn’t the only one kicking well, either! Kai Kroeger had the game of his life and may have been the unofficial MVP, booting every one of his punts but one inside the 10-yard line, not to mention two much-needed punts at the end of the game inside the 5-yard line.

When Clemson had to make something happen offensively, Kroeger never made it easy for them.

Let’s not forget about Ahmarean Brown’s 37-yard punt return before South Carolina’s first drive of the second half! The play had the Gamecocks setting up shop at Clemson’s 26-yard line with a touchdown coming just four plays later.

What were the biggest plays, though, were the fumbles on the kick and punt returns.

After giving up a safety (and whether that was intentional grounding or not is up to interpretation...), we saw an edition of “ball don’t lie” where Clemson fumbled on the ensuing kickoff during one of the weirdest returns you will ever see.

That fumble proved to be costly, too, as the Cocks were able to score on the next drive.

The all-important fumble was on Kroeger’s last punt of the game where Clemson punt returner Antonio Williams coughed it up with just over two minutes to play.

All USC needed to do after that was get a first down on offense, which they did, and that was all she wrote.

South Carolina proved once again that a unit that many ignore or don’t care about can leave a massive mark on a game week in and week out.

Hats off to Pete Lembo and the boys.

Overall Grade: A+

Man, I wish this season was just a few games longer.

It makes me sick knowing that the team has just hit its stride, and the only game left to play will be one likely without a handful of key players.

The year has been a painful one at times, but I’m so happy it got to end in the best of ways.

With two key victories like this, is it possible the Gamecocks can compete for the SEC East title next year if a few big names make a return to Columbia?

The future is looking bright, and hey, the Palmetto Bowl trophy is finally back where it should be!