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Clemson Sticks to Offensive Game Plan, Dominates Gamecocks with Run Game

Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott gets creative with a little-used set to help the Tigers get the edge against South Carolina.

Offensive coordinators love nothing more than being able to pound an opposing defense with a run game. 

Clemson's Tony Elliott says it ignites the sideline, demoralizes the opponent, sets a physical and mental tone, keeps offenses ahead of the chains, opens up the playbook, controls the game and gives his own defense rest. 

Against South Carolina (6-6) on Saturday night, the No. 23 Tigers (9-3) did all of that and more, using 265 rushing yards and averag to help destroy their rival 30-0 in Columbia

"We knew we were going to have to run the ball," Elliott said. "You look at the breakdown of South Carolina's defense, they're top-15 in pass defense. With where we were from a personnel standpoint at wideout, backs are really starting to come on, finally had some cohesion and continuity on the offensive line. Coming off that performance against Wake, I knew the guys had some confidence and it was kind of what we were doing well against the area they weren't doing as well."

Down to basically five receivers, and without star Justyn Ross, the Tigers had no choice but to rely on the run. Elliott said the Gamecocks played a defense that took away the low-percentage throws and dared Clemson to make the hard plays. 

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This time Clemson finished the game

This time Clemson finished the job. The last time the Tigers were at Littlejohn Coliseum, they blew a 23-point lead in a devastating two-point loss to Boston College.

So what did the Tigers do? They turned to a little-used two-running back formation and more two-tight end sets to confuse South Carolina. 

"Coming in this week, it was let's get the best personnel on the field," Elliott said. "That's why you saw a little bit more of the 2-back (set). Got more of the 12 personnel, the two tight ends, just trying to get the best personnel on the field.

"Good thing the run game was going and the two-back set kind of caught them off guard. We had just enough variety in that package to keep them honest." 

That two-back set is something Clemson hasn't used much of since the 2018 national championship game victory against Alabama, but with Will Shipley, Kobe Pace and Phil Mafah healthy and confident, it worked this week. 

Those three rushers combined for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Shipley averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Pace went for 8.3 per tote. The passing attack was grounded as DJ Uiagalelei had just 99 passing yards on nine completions, but sticking to an executing the game plan still led to a dominant victory.

"Really proud of the guys for being able to establish the line of scrimmage and run the ball," Elliott said.