Clemson was a two-touchdown road favorite going into Saturday’s game with South Carolina for a reason. One was deeper, more experienced and possessed more game-breaking talent than the other. Strange things do happen in rivalry games, though, and South Carolina clearly had grown as a team since taking a 56-7 beatdown from the Tigers last season.
So, how much closer have the Gamecocks gotten? A bit, in the sense that it took longer for Clemson to take control of the game, but nowhere near as close as they hoped. An awful Jake Bentley interception gifted the Tigers a touchdown for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, and the offense didn’t even make up those points until scoring its lone touchdown with 2:45 remaining in the game. The final was 34-10, and the gap between the programs remains pronounced.
“It doesn’t matter how much it’s by,” Gamecocks wide receiver Bryan Edwards said. “We played hard, but a loss is a loss.”
Coach Will Muschamp attributed the interception to a miscommunication between Bentley and his receiver, saying the route should have been broken off but also that the throw shouldn’t have been made. It was an appropriate tone-setter for the rest of the game, as self-induced mistakes ruined any hope South Carolina had of competing.
“There were some simple things we needed to do well in this game, and we did not,” Muschamp said.
On a night the Gamecocks needed him to be at his best, Bentley struggled. He finished 16-of-29 for 126 yards, and those numbers were bolstered by a late drive after the game was long decided. In the first half, he was 8-of-15 for just 42 yards, a putrid 2.8 yards per attempt rate. On the game’s opening drive, he overshot an open Hayden Hurst down the center of the field on a second-and-10 throw that would’ve put the Gamecocks in scoring territory.
“At the end of the day, I throw the ball. I have to be responsible for every pass that I throw, so that’s 100 percent on me,” Bentley said. “I have to be better than that.”
While Bentley’s struggles were an issue, he also was leading an offense that simply lacked enough firepower at this point of the season to execute against a team as talented as Clemson. South Carolina has been without starting tailback Rico Dowdle, top playmaker Deebo Samuel and second tight end K.C. Crosby. Knee and ankle issues made freshman wide receiver Shi Smith, who had been starting, unavailable for Clemson. A.J. Turner, the new starting tailback, was lost to a high ankle sprain after just two carries. The Gamecocks still have some quality skill-position players, but none who feature big-play speed as part of their abilities.
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