Deshaun Watson helps Clemson stay perfect with win at South Carolina

Clemson fights off South Carolina

South Carolina cuts the game to within 3 in the fourth quarter, but Clemson is able to hold off the Gamecocks to finish off a perfect regular season.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The state title belongs to Clemson for a second straight year, and thanks to the heroics of quarterback Deshaun Watson, the national title is still within reach, too.

Clemson was sloppy throughout its 37-32 win against rival South Carolina, but Watson lifted the Tigers on his shoulders and carried them to a win. He helped Clemson convert 9 of 13 third-down tries, including a crucial 24-yard completion to Trevion Thompson on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive. He also accounted for four touchdowns to overcome three Clemson turnovers and a sluggish defensive performance.

The Tigers now head to the ACC title game at 12-0, and South Carolina heads into the offseason with plenty of big questions looming.

What the win means for Clemson: It depends how Clemson fans want to view this game. On the one hand, the Tigers wrap up the regular season undefeated with a second straight win against rival South Carolina. Those are accomplishments well worth celebrating. But if we’re parsing the performance with an eye toward the ACC title game and a potential playoff berth, the Tigers showed some flaws. South Carolina’s lackluster offense exploded for one big play after another, and Clemson lost the turnover battle for the sixth time this season. Those issues need to be fixed if the Tigers want to slow down North Carolina next week.

What the loss means for South Carolina: A dismal season has mercifully come to an end, but after a long run of dominance in the state, the Gamecocks now enter an offseason without a coach and with a second straight loss to Clemson. It was a valiant effort against the nation’s No. 1 team, and perhaps that’s a good sign moving forward. Still, the rebuilding project begins now, as the program turns its full attention to finding the man to replace Steve Spurrier.

Player of the game: If it wasn’t for Watson, Clemson’s national title hopes might have been doomed by South Carolina. Instead, the Tigers’ star quarterback lifted them to a win in an otherwise sloppy game. He took plenty of hits, running 20 times for 112 yards, but scored three times with his legs and tossed another touchdown. Watson made one big play after another, including converting 9 of 12 third downs in which he had a hand in the play. For a program whose history is marked by games that got away, Watson is proof things have changed.

Stat of the game: South Carolina’s offense was awful throughout the game, with 67 percent of its plays going for 3 yards or less, but Clemson was gashed again and again by big plays. In all, 11 plays went for more than 15 yards, and those accounted for 80 percent of South Carolina's yards, including three plays of 47 yards or more. Clemson had allowed just seven such plays all season, and never more than one in a single game.