On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson stuffed Clemson running back Travis Etienne, forcing the Tigers to turn the ball over on downs.
That was the beginning and end of the highlights for South Carolina. Quarterback Ryan Hilinski threw an interception on South Carolina’s first offensive possession, and three plays later, No. 3 Clemson scored its first of five touchdowns in a 38-3 rout at Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina, which lost five of its last six games, finished 4-8 in Will Muschamp’s fourth season, while Clemson, 12-0, kept its national championship hopes alive. The Gamecocks will miss a bowl game for the first time in Muschamp's four seasons.
"Frustrating day and a frustrating year," head coach Will Muschamp said.
Clemson rolled up 527 yards of total offense, including 211 rushing. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 26 of 36 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns and also led the Tigers with 66 yards rushing. Receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins both topped 100 yards receiving.
South Carolina, meanwhile, managed just 174 yards of total offense, including 69 rushing. Hilinski was just 16-of-27 for 105 yards and an interception.
The offensive woes continued a trend that has hindered the Gamecocks throughout the second half of the season. South Carolina lost its final three games by a combined score of 88-24.
“We struggled in a lot of areas," Mushcamp said. "… Confidence is a major issue. We are having a hard time in a lot of areas. To sit there and blame one person, I’m not. At the end of the day, we need to be more productive and that’s the bottom line. If you give one reason, it’s an excuse, that’s kind of the way it is these days. I’m tired of talking about it. At the end of the day, we need to get better.
“No one was bitching last year when we averaged 425 yards and 30 points a game. We struggled this year, call it like it is. There a lot of areas that are at fault and need to get fixed.”
Without addressing specifics, Muschamp said he needed to make some changes to his team and vowed that his organization would get better and improve next season.
We need to address some things in our program, yes we will," he said. "Moving forward, I look forward to having a long tenure here at the University of South Carolina and coaching here for along time and getting this thing turned. I look forward to the opportunity and the challenge."
Clemson led 24-3 at the half and stretched its lead to 31-3 when Travis Etienne walked into the end zone to cap a 69-yard drive with 9:59 remaining the third quarter. When the Gamecocks ran Tavien Feaster up the middle for a 2-yard loss on third-and-4 on their next possession, that was pretty much it.
The Tigers added a 3-yard TD run by Etienne with 11:56 remaining and missed a field-goal attempt with 7:29 left.
South Carolina gained some early momentum after stopping Clemson’s first drive and forcing the Tigers to turn the ball over on downs. Clemson drove the ball all the way to the Gamecock 3-yard line, but Clemson stuffed the Tigers on three straight running plays from the 1.
When Hilinski hit Shi Smith for 21 yards from his own end zone on South Carolina’s first offensive play, it looked like the Gamecocks were going to put up a fight. But Hilinski’s third pass was picked off by Derion Kendrick and Clemson scored three plays later on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to Tee Higgins.
After a three-and-out by the Gamecock offense, Lawrence and Higgins connected again, hooking up for a 65-yard touchdown pass when Higgins raced right by South Carolina safety J.T. Ibe.
The Gamecock defense stopped Clemson again early in the second quarter and South Carolina responded with a 15-play scoring drive. With Hilinski, Jay Urich and Rico Dowdle all taking turns at quarterback, the Gamecocks moved the ball on the ground and Hilinski hit tight end Kyle Markway for 30 yards. Markways dropped a second-down pass from the 24, however, and South Carolina had to settle for a 39-yard Parker White field goal.
South Carolina slowed Clemson’s running game in the first half but kept giving up big plays in the passing game. Lawrence had completions of 26 and 33 yards on Clemson’s next drive before tossing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Justyn Ross for a 21-3 lead.
The loss brought an end to a disappointing season for South Carolina, which was 22-17 under Muschamp entering the season and had gone to three straight bowl games. Though the Gamecocks faced one of the nation's toughest schedules, no one expected them to go 4-8. They were 1-5 after beating No. 3 Georgia on Oct. 12.
A sixth straight loss to Clemson was another blow to a team that loses 26 seniors.
“They are hurting, they hurt for our seniors obviously the way the season has gone," Muschamp said. "It’s not something we wanted them to have to experience. It’s a hurting locker room."
Muschamp vowed, however, that things will get better for his program.
Asked what he saw as positives, Muschamp said: “The effort we have throughout the entire season, especially the latter part of the season when things weren’t going very well. The good young talent we have recruited, the good young talent we have coming.
"I see a lot of positive things at some key positions that are going to very good. I feel very confident in that."