Syracuse lost in wire-to-wire fashion yet again on Saturday, this time falling 37-27 to Clemson at the Carrier Dome.
After falling behind 14-0 in the game’s final minutes, Syracuse actually outscored Clemson for the remainder of the game. That was thanks in large part to the play of walk-on quarterback Zack Mahoney, who started in the place of freshman quarterback Eric Dungey. But in the end, it wasn’t quite enough for the Orange (3-7, 1-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) to upset the Tigers (10-0, 7-0).
“I thought our kids played extremely hard,” SU head coach Scott Shafer said afterward. “I thought we played effective football. I thought our offense did a nice job keeping Clemson guessing, especially in the option game.”
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson found wideout Charone Peake for a 64-yard gain on a seam route up the left side of the field. The Tigers then scored on the ensuing play, when Wayne Gallman scampered into the end zone from 11 yards out.
Then, on Syracuse’s first play from scrimmage, Mahoney fumbled the football and Clemson recovered it. A few plays later, the Tigers scored another — this time via a three-yard rush by Watson — to go ahead 14-0. At that point, only one minute and 59 seconds had passed on the game clock.
But the Orange would answer. They scored the game’s next 14 minutes, taking advantage of two Clemson lost fumbles. After the first fumble, Syracuse started with the ball on Clemson’s 28-yard line. On the drive’s very first play, hybrid back Ervin Philips took a handoff and went the rest of the way for the score.
Then, after Clemson lost another fumble, Syracuse went 56 yards on four plays; the drive was capped when Mahoney scampered into the end zone from 10 yards out.
And after Clemson took the lead back and went into halftime up 31-17, it was Mahoney who again had the answer. Midway through the third quarter, he scrambled up the middle of the field for a 30-yard gain, sending the Carrier Dome into an uproar. Then, just a couple plays later, he ran the ball into the end zone from 12 yards out.
Syracuse’s ground attack was potent for most of the game, as the Orange averaged 7.1 yards per rush attempt. That was largely due to Mahoney, who ran the ball 10 times for 76 yards and those two touchdowns against the country’s fifth-best defense in yards allowed per game.
“I have to give all the credit to the coaches,” Mahoney said. “The system that we’re running and the preparation they’re giving me has been giving me a lot of confidence and giving the team a lot of confidence. So with all of us feeling confident going into the game, we just got to execute and I think we did an OK job today. But I’m just doing what I’m told.”
Unfortunately for the Orange, Mahoney’s performance wasn’t quite enough. SU would never catch back up to Clemson, the country’s No. 1 ranked team. Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson had an especially noteworthy performance, finishing 34-for-47 through the air for 360 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, while also rushing the ball 13 times for 105 yards and a score.
Next week, Syracuse will face another dual threat quarterback in Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State. When the Orange and Wolfpack kick off at 12:30 p.m., you can listen to the game live on 88.3-FM WAER.