Clemson woke up Sunday morning finally completing one of Dabo Swinney's five main goals for each season.
The No. 23 Tigers (9-3) earned an impressive 30-0 win over South Carolina on Saturday night. They didn't win the season opener, their division or the ACC, but Clemson reached a goal that hangs in the team room: Win the state championship.
It's something they've done seven consecutive times, dating back to 2014, and it's never lost on this program.
Clemson coaches, players and fans celebrated at Wiliams-Brice Stadium, something that's become all too common for the Gamecocks to witness, but it still means something. Despite all the offensive issues, the three losses away from Death Valley and a season of lost hopes and expectations, the Tigers ended the regular season feeling good about themselves.
And they should. This will be remembered by many people as a step-back season, but Swinney and his team fought until they accomplished a meaningful feat, and for one night in Columbia, it was good enough.
"The perspective for our team is really good," Swinney said. "To be able to reset the foundation of our program and what it takes week-in and week-out and how small your margin of error is really important. There is no doubt this will be a year that serves us well down the road."
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Here's what we learned about Clemson, which gets some time off before finding out who the bowl opponent will be next week, following a dominant victory over its in-state rival:
Defense wins championships
So it wasn't the national championship, but Clemson doesn't pitch the first shutout in the rivalry since doing it to South Carolina in 1989 without a swarming, consistent and big-play defense that refused to give up a score. This side of the ball showed that no matter the situation, it was never going to quit, and that was with a ton of injuries. This season might be one of defensive coordinator Brent Venables' best coaching jobs as he never used a single excuse and had his guys ready week after week.
Against the Gamecocks, they took away that offense's strength, allowing just 43 rushing yards and holding them to 4-of-16 on third downs. Without weapons like Bryan Bresee and Xavier Thomas, Venables never toned down his aggressive style, and while he showed a lot of respect for South Carolina's offense, he drew up the perfect game plan to take away anything and everything the Gamecocks wanted to do. Once again, Venables proves he's a star.
That term means something different in Tiger Town these days. Clemson can't put up 300 passing yards and 200 rushing. It's not going to light up a scoreboard and churn up first downs, but it is confident in what it is at this point. Tony Elliott, the much-maligned offensive coordinator, also drew up the correct game plan, and more importantly, he stuck to it. Clemson wasn't going to dominate without running the ball. South Carolina knew that. So did Wake Forest the week before, but the Tigers proved again they can do what everyone knows is coming. They rushed for 265 yards.
It wasn't a memorable game for quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who had just 99 yards on 9-of-19 passing, but he's still 1-0 in the rivalry, something that position takes seriously. It wasn't a perfect night, but it was a grand finish when Phil Mafah ran in the final score to put the icing on the cake and show that an offense that struggled nearly all season had it in them to compliment that stifling defense.
Clemson is still Clemson
When it comes to this rivalry, there is only one king, and it doesn't appear that's going to change any time soon. This was the year many Gamecocks were licking their chops for. The Tigers were down offensively. All it would take is a couple of breaks and they'd be in the game with a chance to win. It didn't happen, and no one knows when it will.
Clemson is still far superior in talent and coaching, winning the last four meetings at Williams-Brice Stadium by a combined 94 points. Sure, the Gamecocks are adjusting to a new coach in Shane Beamer and have done accomplished the feat of reaching bowl eligibility, something few pundits thought was possible. But at the end of the day, Clemson is still Clemson. And that's a team that's won 72 of the 118 meetings in the series.
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