First off, I wanted it known that this is not a bad Syracuse team. This was an impressive win. Syracuse was able to beat a very good Virginia Tech team (31-17) and has been improving on defense all season. The team can score some points in a hurry. Clemson benefitted from, unfortunately, knocking the Cuse QB Eric Dungey out of the game. Clemson got to rest players and get the backups a lot of valuable reps (we played a similar game against Miami on the road last year, unfortunately knocking Kaaya out of the game as well).
it is well known in these parts that we do not like Syracuse. I don't like Syracuse. It really stems from the DABO award, described by a reader on Troy Nunes (Cuse SBNation site) as being "all about ignorance and lack of willingness to be less ignorant." Then you have Scott Shafer cussing out Dabo for trying to 'run up the score' at the end of the first half (and then coming out of the half scoring and acting like it was a game??) and Scott Shafer, well, being himself.
Then you have the awkward Boeheim Denny's quip about Clemson and dining. But Clemson defeated Cuse in Basketball and Football this year. It would feel so sweet, but Syracuse had to go and hire one of the best young coaches in America and, perhaps, the most loveable coach. I hate Syracuse for making such a great hire. I mean watch this...what a great coach....how articulate...did I mention he is a movie buff who can make a GoT reference?? Aaaagghhh....too much wonderful...
Someone hire this man away from Syracuse...
So about this game. It was all kinds of good...let's get the few negatives out of the way.
Deshaun Watson's Shoulder
It was just a bruised shoulder, but my stomach collapsed on itself, sucked into a pit of despair--darker than any known mass we describe as a black hole. Those were not good minutes. I will not feel completely better until I see him throw the ball against Pitt. Finally, we saw a beautiful deep ball that was on-time, had enough air under it, perfect spiral, and hit the receiver in stride. I don't want to lose that. It also begs the question, "Why can't we do that 5 times a game??" Hopefully the shoulder is good. I feel like we can scrape together some wins here at the end of the season with a Dr. Schuess/Kelly Bryant combo, but we won't win any national trophies or maybe not even an ACC Championship.
On that note, the Dr. was dealing. Sure, some of those balls could have been picked off and the Cuse secondary is not very good (neither is the Pitt secondary), but Schuess showed us something. And, hey, the when in doubt throw it up to Mike Williams strategy is how we beat Auburn. That's not a bad strategy, really. Kudos to a guy who stuck with the program and decided to be DW's backup as a senior. He could have transferred but didn't for the team.
The kickoff coverage has been too good all season. We were bound to regress a bit. This was definitely the game to allow a lapse or two. Pitt has the best returner in college football so this needs to get fixed in a hurry. Hard to see who is actually our of their lanes. On the really long return, I liked seeing Mullen get off some blocks, get down the field and make the tackle. The defense was able to keep Cuse out of the endzone. JD Davis had a chance to make the tackle early but whiffed along with other players.
Tanner Muse. Have a day. Needless to say he is coming on.
Part of this was connected to Huegel's struggle to kick the ball deeper. He has done well this year with length, but didn't have as much distance this past weekend.
Greg, greg, gregory. Can't miss those extra points. Just can't. The doink off the pole on the field goal was unfortunate but that will occasionally happen. Can't miss the extra points.
We must talk about the Boulware suplex.
The move that officially won the Intercontinental Title Belt for the Junkyard Dawg, Ragnar Boulwarian. Just to establish some facts on the play. The whistle had not blown until the player was already airborn. Plenty of throws like this occur frequently in college football and the NFL (this was Byron Maxwell's primary means of tackling when he was at Clemson, for example). Boulware was flagged for unnecessary roughness, not the taunting that happened after (I would be fine with that call, by the way). However, the refs have made it a point to flag some of these kinds of throwing tackles, so the flag is not unprecedented. Boulware is also being watched carefully and with more scrutiny since the Lamar Jackson incident. It definitely fired up the crowd and the defense. Boulware could stand to tone down some of his post-hit antics, but he isn't a dumb player about that kind of thing (refs will tell him it is too much and he won't cross the line again). I'm ok with the flag and I'm ok with Boulware drawing the flag because I would rather the defense play a physical brand of football. It was not a 'dirty' play whatsoever.
I was really glad that no one was flagged on the Dungey hit. Clearly, Boulware hit the chest of the player and O'Daniel hit the shoulder first and then moved up as the sandwich happened. This was a lot closer to targeting than the Joseph hit of Francois in the chest with his helmet up in the FSU game.
The crowd, once again, played a factor in the game. The crowd got a couple of delay of game and illegal shift/motion calls. The crowd is intelligent and knows when to lay it on thick, just at the right time.
Does anyone have an explanation for why a review didn't happen when Deon Cain got his heel down with control of the ball before the rest of his foot hit OOB's? Apparently, there is a toe-heel rule I wasn't aware of but thought there was a pause between the toe and heel coming down. Bizarre play and lack of a review. Luckily we scored the next play. I seriously think the replay booth was caught napping.
On the pass thrown into the stands that should have been intentional grounding, the refs said the QB was not under pressure despite Ferrell being seconds from grabbing him. Sigh.
Clemson has completely dominated the first quarter of games all season. That speaks to the quality of preparation from both the coaches and the players. That level of consistency week in and week out has been very important. Do we still need to grow with regards to in-game adjustments and at the half on offense? Absolutely. But we haven't come into a game playing flat or being out-schemed on both sides of the ball. That deserves mention.
Did I mention deep balls?? More of those, please. Let Deon Cain's light shine. If the defense has to respect the deep ball it will open up the run game and relax the windows on intermediate routes and slants. The threat of tempo and the deep ball can catch defenses on their heels. What a lovely ball to Cain on a post route over the middle into Cover 3 (I believe). Beautiful. That level of execution is almost unstoppable.
I loved seeing DW exchange some words with Cuse's #4 Zaire Franklin. Watson is a gritty player. He is the nicest guy, but he is not going to back down and has that confidence that you need to play QB. The team feeds off of this resilient energy and attitude. We all love Tajh, but I never saw this level of 'savage'.
I'm so disappointed that Cornell Powell hurt his hamstring a bit and didn't play much in front of Lugs.
Tremayne Anchrum (#73) finally played after being hampered by a high ankle sprain. He looked really good at RT. I want to see it against a better defensive front, but he is going to give Fruhmorgan depth at the position. Fruh was out with a shoulder injury and is now dealing with a personal issue. He will be out this week and we all hope he will feel/get better with whatever he is dealing with. Pollard has been serviceable and done well with his opportunities, but he doesn't have the foot speed of Anchrum. Pollard will start against Pitt.
More Big John Simpson please. Looked good in run support and better at pass pro than I thought he would be at this stage. Of course, this is Syracuse's DLine. He needs to do this against Pitt and Wake before we get too crazy, but he looks like the future starter at LG unless Hearn can improve his mobility. Watch for Gage Cervenka in the future. He is progressing nicely and could supplant Falcinelli next year at Center.
Feaster. We finally got to see the talent. The recruiting services missed with dropping Feaster in the rankings. He has the speed, quick twitch cutting ability, and vision to be an elite RB. I thought he showed some good toughness and fight to get extra yards as well. Feaster will need a bit of time to be an elite back, but I want to see him getting a steady diet of carries down the stretch.
Shutout. Can't complain at all when that happens. Clemson has yet to allow a first quarter touchdown all season.
Oh Brent Venables you evil genius.
We knew Syracuse couldn't run the ball against our three man front. They wanted to attack the perimeter on early downs. BV decides he is going to stick his DE's out in the flats and even lineup on the line of scrimmage, cover WRs against some bunch formations.
Clemson gets an extra defender to blow up blocking WRs and easily tackle WRs on the edge. Also means you have another defender in space to attack a running QB and dropping back against the screen game. It worked perfectly to stall Syracuse on early downs, setting up obvious passing downs where the DE could then rush the passer.
Ryan Carter swung momentum in the game early with his interception and return. His ability to play Nickel, Corner, and even Safety in a pinch is the versatility that I said we needed in our preseason preview of the corners. I thought that the Nickel role would be filled more by the return of Wiggins, but he is still not healthy (I think he likely got re-injured after the first few weeks when he seemed to be coming on). Carter is really important to this team, this year. He is still a liability at times in coverage, but he did an excellent job of anticipating the throw. BV with a great defensive design (similar to what corners have been doing to DW lately, anticipating certain throws, sitting in zone coverage on passing downs).
Jadar Johnson looked healthy (sigh of relief). He is very important to the team, both in run support and playing center field. He is a solid player who will be missed next year, playing himself into the NFL draft conversation. Tanner Muse is showing that he might be the next man up if Wiggins can't get healthy. That is an important development for the depth of the secondary moving forward.
Yeargin looked good in junk time. Bryant's return has yet to push Wilkins back inside, but has cut down Yeargin's reps. Yeargin made a statement for more playing time.
I liked what I saw from Trayvon Mullen in junk time too. He and Edmond need to stay healthy. Etta-Tawo is an NFL receiver and Fields and Tank had good days, not giving up anything over the top or drawing any PIs. Fields needs to continue to mature and be more confident/trust his technique. I think we saw some of that against Cuse.
Syracuse actually had a good drive or two going, but two pre-snap penalties because of a back-up QB and mental mistakes for Cuse stalled a promising drive, which pushed them out of FG range. The offense did the rest and it was a blowout. Real quality win. Now we have two games to get through and then the rivalry game. Pitt poses some challenges but their depleted secondary and injuries on the D-line, coupled with our ability to stop the run should be a winning formula.