Top 25 football: No. 1 Clemson holds off South Carolina
Columbia, S.C. — Deshaun Watson isn’t giving up on Clemson’s step-by-step approach, not when it’s worked so well.
Watson had another big day, running for three touchdowns and passing for a fourth as the No. 1 Tigers capped a perfect regular season and held off rival South Carolina, 37-32, on Saturday.
The prizes for Clemson (12-0) are huge. Watson will take them one at a time.
“We weren’t worried about the national championship,” he said. “We were just worrying about this game, achieve one of our goals and be state champs and that’s what we did. The national championship will take care of itself.”
Especially if Watson keeps performing at this level.
He passed for 279 yards and ran for 114 to keep the Tigers on track for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson is 12-0 for the first time since winning the 1981 national championship.
And they’ve got a chance to do it again. Next up is No. 11 North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game on Dec. 5 and a win would send the Tigers, who are first in the CFP ranking, to the national semifinals. South Carolina finished the season at 3-9.
As long as Watson’s around, the Tigers’ title chances are pretty good.
The Heisman Trophy hopeful had a 5-yard TD run and a 55-yard scoring pass to Deon Cain to put the Tigers up 14-0 lead. He added 30 and 3-yard touchdown runs in the second half.
“He’s just a great leader and he’s very comfortable on that stage,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s what he was born to do. There’s nothing else I can tell you.”
Watson said the Tigers will enjoy this win, then regroup Sunday to focus on the Tar Heels.
“I’m just looking to be 13-0 next week,” he said.
Clemson extended its nation’s best win streak to 15 straight games. But if it was looking for style points to impress the CFP committee, this was not the way to do it.
The Tigers fumbled three times as their 18-point lead was cut to 28-25 with 12:19 left on Shon Carson’s 1-yard touchdown run and Lorenzo Nunez’s 2-point conversion.
Watson, though, followed with a 60-yard scoring drive that he ended with a 3-yard burst around the left side.
Carson added an 11-yard touchdown catch with a second left and Clemson gave up the most points South Carolina has scored all year.
Still, the Tigers went past 500 yards for an eighth straight game and did enough on defense to corral the struggling Gamecocks.
South Carolina ends the year on a five-game losing streak with interim coach Shawn Elliott, who took over last month with Steve Spurrier’s resignation. The next coach also won’t have playmaking standout Pharoh Cooper, who took part in Senior Day festivities after saying he’ll give up his final college season for the NFL draft.
“Our team fought to the very end. Players believed, they came out, they fought,” Elliott said. “They did everything in their power.”
Clemson looked shaky early on, fumbles ending two of the Tigers’ first two drives. Gallman coughed up the ball after a hit by Skai Moore, then Watson mishandled an exchange with Gallman that Dante Sawyer pounced on.
The Tigers’ defense, though, didn’t let the Gamecocks capitalize on the mistakes.
Clemson finally found its footing with an 83-yard drive in the second quarter that Watson ended with a leaping 5-yard TD run, even flashing a bit of the “Dab” in celebration.
On the Tigers’ next possession, Watson lofted a picture-perfect arc to freshman Deon Cain for a 55-yard touchdown.
South Carolina’s only first-half points came on Elliott Fry’s 21-yard field goal in the final seconds to cut the lead to 14-3.
Clemson extended things to 21-3 on Watson’s second TD run before the Gamecocks found some life.
This was the Tigers’ first win at Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007 and just the third victory in eight tries for Swinney against the Gamecocks.
No. 2 Alabama 29, (at) Auburn 13: Derrick Henry ran 46 times for 271 yards and Adam Griffith kicked five field goals to propel Alabama to the SEC West title.
Griffith emerged as an Iron Bowl hero for the Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern) two years after his last-play attempt touched off the Tigers’ winning Kick-Six play. Henry, meanwhile, just did more of the same against Auburn (6-6, 2-6).
The Heisman Trophy candidate produced his fourth 200-yard game of the season against an SEC defense. He helped put it away with 19 runs in the fourth quarter, then extended his school-record streak of games with a rushing touchdown to 17 in the final minute.
The Tigers stayed close into the fourth, aided by Jason Smith’s 77-yard touchdown catch, which he twice tipped back to himself, in the third quarter.
No. 5 Oklahoma 58, (at) No. 9 Oklahoma State 23: Baker Mayfield threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as Oklahoma captured the Big 12 title and likely a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Mayfield was knocked out of the previous game with a concussion, but he was fearless against the Cowboys, rushing for 77 yards and a touchdown. The Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12, No. 3 CFP) gained 524 yards, including 344 on the ground, to claim their third win over a ranked opponent in three weeks.
Jordan Thomas intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown for the Sooners.
J.W. Walsh passed for 325 yards and two scores, and James Washington caught seven passes for 169 yards for the Cowboys (10-2, 7-2, No. 11 CFP).
No. 14 Florida State 27, (at) No. 10 Florida 2: Dalvin Cook ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns, Roberto Aguayo kicked two long field goals and Florida State upended its rival.
The Seminoles (10-2) won their third consecutive game at Florida Field — the first time that’s happened in the history of the storied rivalry — and ended any chance the Gators (10-2) had of making the College Football Playoff.
Florida avoided its first shutout in the Swamp since 1988 when FSU quarterback Sean Maguire recovered a fumble in the end zone for a safety with 8:58 remaining.
It was little consolation for the Gators, who will be huge underdogs next week for the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta against second-ranked Alabama.
Florida State, which didn’t make the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, awaits its bowl assignment. The Seminoles probably locked up a spot in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
Florida had suspended leading receiver Demarcus Robinson for the fourth time in three seasons.
No. 11 North Carolina 45, (at) N.C. State 34: Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan ran for touchdowns in a dominating first quarter as North Carolina beat its rival.
Logan scored on runs of 42 and 40 yards, while Hood had a 39-yard run of his own before scoring from a yard out in that 35-point avalanche for the Tar Heels (11-1, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 14 CFP).
UNC also got TD catches from Quinshad Davis and Mack Hollins, tying the program’s single-quarter scoring record by rolling to a 35-7 lead. That was too big of a hole for the Wolfpack (7-5, 3-5), who managed to slow the Tar Heels’ early onslaught but never recovered.
Hood finished with a career-high 220 yards rushing and two touchdowns to lead UNC, which already had wrapped up the Coastal Division title and a trip to next week’s ACC championship game to play No. 1 Clemson.
(At) No. 19 Mississippi 38, No. 23 Mississippi State 27: Chad Kelly threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score to lead Mississippi.
Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2 Southeastern, No. 18 CFP) jumped out to a 28-3 halftime lead and was never in serious trouble during the second half. Kelly’s two touchdown passes went Damore’ea Stringfellow, and Tony Bridges returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown.
It’s just the second time the road team has won the Egg Bowl in 12 years.
Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4, No. 21) struggled in quarterback Dak Prescott’s final home game at Davis Wade Stadium.
Prescott completed 31 of 42 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked seven times and rarely looked comfortable in the pocket.
Ole Miss finished its second straight nine-win regular season.
(At) USC 40, No. 22 UCLA 21: Cody Kessler threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, and Southern California clinched the Pac-12 South title in the 85th edition of their crosstown showdown.
Darreus Rogers and Taylor McNamara caught TD passes while the Trojans (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) scored 20 consecutive points in the second half before raising the Victory Bell in the frenzied Coliseum. USC improved to 5-2 under interim coach Clay Helton and snapped its three-year losing streak in the annual city rivalry game.
USC will face Stanford next Saturday in the Trojans’ first trip to the Pac-12 title game.
Paul Perkins rushed for two touchdowns for the Bruins (8-4, 5-4), who lost to USC for the first time in coach Jim Mora’s tenure.
(At) No. 25 Temple 27, Connecticut 3: Jahad Thomas ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns and P.J. Walker threw for 160 yards and a score to help Temple secure a spot in the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game.
Romond Deloatch caught a touchdown for the Owls, who will play at No. 21 Houston for the AAC title next Saturday with a New Year’s Six bowl bid possibly at stake for the winner.
Temple (10-2, 7-1, No. 25 CFP) reached 10 wins for just the second time in program history, capping a three-year turnaround under coach Matt Rhule that includes winning the AAC East Division.
UConn (6-6, 4-4), playing without starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, struggled offensively. The Huskies had just 138 yards of offense, including only nine rushing yards. It was the fourth time this season the Owls held an opponent under 200 total yards.