COLUMBIA, S.C. — When a championship is in the balance, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows he can count on Hunter Renfrow.
The receiver had a pair of touchdown catches as the fourth-ranked Tigers won their fourth straight over rival South Carolina 34-10 on Saturday night. The victory kept Clemson on track for a third consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff.
Renfrow, the one-time walk-on, had a 4-yard touchdown grab to put the Tigers up 20-0 at halftime. He opened the third quarter with a twisting, 61-yard catch and run that thwarted any hopes of a Gamecocks’ comeback.
It was Renfrow’s third career multiple-TD game — the other two were Clemson’s national championship contests against Alabama.
“It’s just that time of year,” Swinney said, chuckling. “He just comes up big.”
Renfrow’s had that knack since the 5-foot-11 junior arrived on campus with dreams of playing major college football. He made a name for himself against Alabama after the 2015 season with a pair of touchdowns in Clemson’s 45-40 loss.
A year later, Renfrow once more bedeviled the Crimson Tide and had the game-winning, 2-yard TD catch with a second to go in the Tigers’ 35-31 win. He was tied for the team lead with 46 catches coming into the South Carolina game Saturday night, but his only touchdown reception came last week in a 61-3 blowout of Citadel.
He was happy with his role Saturday as the Tigers (11-1, No. 3 CFP) continued their stranglehold on the Palmetto State’s most cared-about sporting event.
“I’m just so proud of the way we played, the way we came into this environment,” Renfrow said. “Defense helped us out early and got a big score.”
The win was the 100th in Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s career. And combined with the CFP’s top teams — Alabama and Miami — losing this weekend, the Tigers solidified their position among the top four heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference title game next week.
The Tigers entered the game wary of a rejuvenated South Carolina (8-4, No. 24 CFP), which finished second in the Southeastern Conference East and had its most victories in a season in four years. But Clemson’s defense bottled up the Gamecocks and quarterback Jake Bentley for a second consecutive season.
Fittingly, cornerback Ryan Carter opened Clemson’s scoring with a 12-yard pick-six on Bentley’s bad throw near his goal line.
South Carolina managed just 99 yards in the first half and 207 for the game, its lowest total this season.
While he Gamecocks struggled, Clemson QB Bryant completed 23 of 34 passes for 272 yards, his most since throwing for 316 yards against Louisville on Sept. 16.
Bentley finished 16 of 29 for 126 yards, two interceptions and a 38-yard TD pass to Bryan Edwards late in the fourth quarter. Bentley passed for just 41 yards against the Tigers in a 56-7 loss in 2016.
Muschamp said his team did not handle the moment.
“When you lose like that to your archrival,” he said, “it’s not a lot of fun.”
Clemson: The Tigers put on another big show away from home, adding to earlier wins at Louisville (47-21), Virginia Tech (31-17) and North Carolina State (38-31) this season. The ability to win on the road should serve them well playing away from home in the ACC title game and the College Football Playoff.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have made big strides this season, but are still no match for Clemson’s dominant program which has outscored Will Muschamp’s team 90-17 in his two years on the job.
South Carolina Will Muschamp and his players did not regret their motto, “Never again,” which arose a short time after the Gamecocks 56-7 battering to Clemson last year. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” quarterback Jake Bentley said, “but we’re never again going to stop competing and playing as hard as we can and we showed that tonight.”
DABO SAID WHAT?
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty after apparently yelling at officials a bit too often with language that was a little too salty. The penalty came as Swinney wandered too far onto the field following Renfrow’s 4-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Swinney was upset that fans near the end zone were tossing water bottles and debris on the field. He wanted officials to penalize South Carolina. “That’s what I thought,” he said. “But I got a flag. Should have kept my mouth shut. “
Clemson will play Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Dec. 2.
South Carolina awaits its bowl destination to be announced Dec. 3.