COLUMBIA — 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,” Watson 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. 14 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.
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 consecutive 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 series 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 a 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 pass. Watson stood with his arm in the air hold up No. 1 as Cain brought in the pass and finished the long scoring play.
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.