When a team has a down year, it generally means having a losing season.
For Clemson in 2021, it means a 9-3 record and not going to the College Football Playoff or winning an ACC championship for a seventh straight time. While those streaks ended, the Tigers did manage to keep their home and Palmetto Bowl winning streaks alive.
Last week, 23rd-ranked Clemson took down then-No. 10 Wake Forest to extend its 34-game winning streak at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers then beat South Carolina 30-0 on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium for a seventh straight win in the rivalry.
The Tigers ended the regular season with five straight victories and still have a chance to reach 10 wins for an 11th year in a row in a to-be-determined bowl game.
Here are some key takeaways from Clemson’s regular season finale Saturday against the Gamecocks.
Next man up
When it rains (injuries), it pours. Clemson almost never had a game where a starter wasn’t out this year. During the season opener, the Tigers were without defensive lineman Tyler Davis, who was the projected starter on the first depth chart of the year. From there the injuries piled up.
Against the Gamecocks, Clemson was missing defensive lineman Xavier Thomas, wide receiver E.J. Williams and reserve linebacker LaVonta Bentley. Thomas’s absence allowed Greg Williams to get his first start on the year.
Despite Thomas being a big loss for the Tigers, there wasn’t much drop-off with the group holding the Gamecocks to 75 total yards of offense after two quarters. Williams had one tackle in the game.
Dacari Collins got his second-ever start at wide receiver but limped off the field late in the second half. The freshman ended the contest with two catches for 50 yards. As a result, both Will Brown and Will Swinney saw more playing time.
The Tigers might have one of their youngest offensive units in a long time. Through some growing pains, the group has managed to put together some of its better performances late in the season. Running back duo Kobe Pace and Will Shipley each scored once in the first half Saturday and combined for 186 rushing yards to end the regular season.
With Shipley’s TD, he tied current Tigers running backs coach C.J. Spiller (2006) for second-most rushing scores by a Clemson true freshman with 10.
Phil Mafah added versatility to the Tigers’ run game and helped the team get out of the end zone during the second quarter. A holding call put Clemson at its 5-yard line and Mafah had 13 yards on three carries to give the team some breathing room. That was followed up by freshman wide receiver Dacari Collins’s 37-yard snag from D.J. Uiagalelei.
Mafah later had Clemson’s first touchdown of the second half on a six-yard trot at the 2:30 mark of the fourth quarter, giving all of the underclassmen running backs a score in the game.
As a unit, Clemson totaled 364 yards of offense, 265 of which came on the ground.
Andrew Booth’s draft stock
Clemson junior cornerback Andrew Booth likely won’t return for his senior season and instead head to the NFL Draft. He’s projected to be a first-round pick and showed why on Saturday night in Columbia.
Booth had two interceptions with a pass breakup and tackle against the Gamecocks. He had just one interception coming into the contest and will end the season with 37 tackles.