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Barnes, Weitz help return Palmetto Bowl trophy to Clemson in defensive showcase

Ashleigh Snyder
Head coach Dabo Swinney and freshman safety Khalil Barnes celebrate the win against South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023.

The No. 24 Clemson Tigers took down the South Carolina Gamecocks by a score of 16-7 on Saturday night to clinch the Palmetto Bowl, marking their eighth victory in the last decade. Clemson now finishes its regular season 8-4 after a four-game win streak to close out the year.

The Tigers were hot from the start against the Gamecocks, thanks in large part to the same name being called over and over: freshman safety Khalil Barnes.

Barnes first returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown a mere 35 seconds into the game. On South Carolina’s very next offensive play, he intercepted a pass from South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler to give the Tigers possession on their own 33-yard line. His pick six was the Tigers’ only touchdown of the game, moving them up to first in the nation for defensive touchdowns.

As for the Tigers’ other points on the night, their leading scorer was none other than graduate kicker Jonathan Weitz, who put up a perfect 3-for-3 performance against the Gamecocks. He placed a career-long 50-yarder through the center of the posts, in addition to 49 and 42-yard field goals and one extra point for a total of 10 points.

“Tonight he was three for three, and it was the difference in the game, and I wish we could’ve gotten one more opportunity,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m really proud of that kid, and it’s cool for him to celebrate in there with teammates.”

South Carolina scored its lone touchdown halfway through the first quarter to even the score at 7-7, but after Weitz’s first field goal, the Tigers remained in control of the scoreboard.

The second half was a showcase of dominant defense and special teams, with just three points scored between both teams for the entire half.

The Tigers allowed a total of 169 offensive yards in the game, composed of 112 passing yards from Rattler and 57 yards on the ground. Limiting the Gamecocks’ offense and winning the turnover battle ultimately propelled the Tigers to the rivalry win.

“Our defense is as good as there is out there, and they have done a great job, giving us a chance to win every week,” Swinney said. “We are so much better in pass defense than we were last year.”

Clemson punter Aidan Swanson proved to be crucial for the Tigers, as he punted the ball six times for an average of 41.2 yards per kick. Five of those punts landed inside of the 20-yard line to give the defense plenty to work with in regard to field position.

Following the game, Swinney spoke about the importance of Swanson’s leg.

“Field position was huge, and the style of the game, how we were playing,” Swinney said.

“Aidan’s been great, really happy he’s coming back, he’s had a heck of a year, he’s kinda found himself, he’s been a weapon on coverage.”

The Tigers will be back in action for their bowl game, which is set to be announced on Dec. 3 following conference championship weekend.

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About the Contributors
Luke Beard, Asst. Sports Editor
Ashleigh Snyder, Photo Editor
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