Syracuse Suffers Second Straight Blowout Loss 41-6 to Clemson
For a Syracuse Orange football fan, there is no bigger matchup than Clemson. Despite a 63-20 defeat to Maryland, a struggling offense under a new quarterback, and the threat of the number one team in the country marching in the Dome, the Orange fan base was in a frenzy hours before the game started. Every seat was filled for the first time since some guy named Donovan McNabb was quarterback, and the sea of Orange erupted as Head Coach Dino Babers led the team onto the field.
This game presented an opportunity for Cuse to rewrite the narrative on a disappointing season thus far. A win over Clemson would make the Maryland loss look like a fluke, silence all Tommy DeVito doubters, and hopefully return Syracuse to the top 25. Although most knew the Orange were a heavy underdog, there was still a feeling in the air that the game could go either way. Syracuse fans and alumni stood cheering as Cuse kicked it off to begin another exciting matchup against Clemson. Once the game started, however, Syracuse fans would have little to cheer for.
The game started poorly for Syracuse, and the story of the first quarter became missed opportunities. The defense forced Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence to go three and out on his first drive, but the offense squandered good field position on a third down drop by Taj Harris that should have moved the chains. Missed opportunity number one. Clemson started to get in rhythm in its second drive, beginning with a big first down on 3rd and 15 to Junior WR Tee Higgins. Higgins was a thorn in the side of the Syracuse secondary all day, recording seven catches for 150 yards. The drive would end with Clemson’s first touchdown on a pass to WR Amari Rodgers. The Tigers took a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish.
The next missed opportunity came when a personal foul on the kickoff gave Syracuse great starting field position at their own 40. This presented an opportunity to strike back and tie the game, or at least move the ball 35 yards and kick a field goal. They did nothing with it and ended up punting.
Clemson took the ball back with time left in the first quarter. The play of the game would come during Clemson’s second drive when Lawrence was forced to scramble out of the pocket to his right. He threw a jump ball down field over the head of Syracuse DB Antwan Cordy and into the hands of a leaping Tee Higgins near the right sideline, not to mention Lawrence also grabbed an extra 15 yards for a Kingsley Jonathan (Syracuse D-lineman) late hit on the play. The pass-play/penalty gave Clemson the yardage they needed to bully the ball down to the one-yard line, and Lawrence ran it in easily to make it a 14-0 game.
Time for the final missed opportunity of the quarter. Cuse makes a big 3rd and 5 stop and gets the ball back at their own 41 and, for the first time all game, the offense started to move. Tommy drew Clemson offside and grabbed a first down past midfield. Then, he threw a deep bomb right into the hands of WR Trishton Jackson for a touch… dropped. Albeit, Syracuse was flagged for ineligible receiver downfield anyway, but that play took some of the air out of the building. DeVito looked like he was going to make his first big play of the season and it was not meant to be. The first quarter would end at 14-0 Clemson, and Syracuse would begin to turn the game around.
The second quarter was one of triumph for Cuse, focused on their lockdown defense. The Orange began the quarter amid the drive that ended the first. They drove the ball down to the 11-yard line before being forced to settle for a field goal from K Andre Szmyt. 14-3 Tigers. With points on the board, the defense came to life. Clemson started the second with back-to-back 3 and outs. The Tigers would score some points after catches by Tee Higgins on two consecutive plays brought Clemson to the Syracuse 23-yard line. From there, the Orange forced a no gain run and a couple incompletions which resulted in a Clemson field goal. 17-3 Tigers. Syracuse would come back with a field goal of their own after failing to punch in a first goal opportunity from the eight, and the half would end at 17-6. Halftime gave a glimmer of hope for Orange fans with the score still manageable. A scoring drive to begin the second half could cut the lead to one possession and give Cuse a real chance to stun Clemson once again.
Unsurprisingly, the third quarter did not end up being the turning point in a historical comeback. It was an absolute disaster, start to finish. The third started off great for the Orange. They got their first turnover of the game on Clemson’s initial drive of the half when DB Christopher Frederick made a remarkable play to tip and intercept a Trevor Lawrence pass to the sideline. DeVito took over at the Clemson nine-yard line and needed a field goal at the least to make it a one possession game. He dropped back and got pushed out of the pocket to the right by oncoming pressure. He ran towards the sideline with no open receiver in sight until he found one guy open, but unfortunately for the Orange it was Clemson cornerback Mario Goodrich. DeVito gave Goodrich a chest pass with no Syracuse receiver in sight. An inexplicable decision to not throw the ball away immediately flipped all the momentum the Orange had generated by winning the second quarter. To make a really long quarter of football short, Clemson outgained Syracuse 229 to 13 in the third quarter. The Tigers would never look back and the game ended 41-6 in favor of the National Champions.
While Syracuse held on in the first half, it became abundantly clear which team was more talented in the second half, especially on the offensive side of the ball. It has been a rough three games for the new signal caller Tommy DeVito and the third quarter interception did not do him any favors in terms of public opinion. DeVito has yet to look comfortable running the offense although he’s not the only player to blame. The offensive line looked lost Saturday night. It felt like the pocket collapsed on DeVito nearly every play, often before he had time to get through his reads. The run game has continued to be underwhelming as well. Running backs Abdul Adams and Mo Neal combined for just 56 yards on 23 carries, a clip of 2.4 yards per carry. Additionally, the receivers have not stepped up and filled the void left by last year’s number one wideout Jamal Custis. RB Mo Neal was the only player to have over 30 yards against Clemson (Neal had 67) and WR/KR Sean Reilly was the only receiver with more than two catches, and he gained just 22 yards on his four receptions.
The Orange need to clean it up a bit on defense, but overall they should take this game as a positive rather than a negative. 41 points is a lot to surrender, but the defense simply had to play too much. Due to a lack of production on offense, it felt like the defense was out there the whole game, especially in the second half, and they couldn’t hold Clemson long enough for the Syracuse offense to wake up. If it weren’t for some of the offensive opportunities missed in the first and third quarters, the defense likely would have allowed significantly fewer points. The biggest individual concern for the defense in this game was S Andre Cisco. He was beaten over the top on Clemson’s first touchdown and really struggled to impact the game.
Moving forward, Syracuse will be setting their sights on securing a decent bowl game with hopes of the ACC championship all but vanquished. The Orange take on the Western Michigan Broncos next Saturday as they try to pick up their first win since week 1. Western Michigan and Syracuse are live on WAER at 12:00pm Saturday September 21. Countdown to kickoff begins at 11:30am.