After a whirlwind week with the exit of Kelly Bryant from the team, Clemson returned to Death Valley to take on Syracuse. There was a lot of talk among fans about revenge for last year’s loss to the Orange, but the players didn’t seem to be thinking that way.
The Tigers kicked off and B.T. Potter predictably booted it out of the end zone to give Syracuse the ball at the 25. The Orange had a couple of inside runs to get to 3rd and 3. After appearing to fail to get it, the officials said Clemson called a timeout before the snap. The Orange then got a 20 yard run to convert. Syracuse, running up-tempo, moved into the red zone. The Tigers forced a 3rd and 9 at the 15, and then stuffed the inside run to limit the damage to a FG. Syracuse was up 3-0.
As I wondered last week, the Trevor Lawrence era at Clemson had begun. Lyn-J Dixon returned the kick and got to the 16. Lawrence hit Tee Higgins to gain 19 on first down. Then disaster struck as an option handoff to Travis Etienne fell to the ground and Syracuse recovered it at the 30. The Tiger defense came in completely stuffed the Orange offense, including a TFL by Isaiah Simmons. Syracuse got another FG to push their lead to 6-0.
The Tigers took the ball at the 17 on the kickoff. Etienne took it out to the 32 on first down and got 4 more on the next play. On 2nd and 6 Lawrence couldn’t connect with Higgins deep. The two connected on the next play but it was half a yard short and the Tigers punted, putting the ball at the Orange 5 yard line. The Tiger defense forced a 3rd and 1 and held, forcing Syracuse to punt.
The Tigers took over at their 40 and Tavien Feaster ran tough to get 9 yards. Amari Rodgers then appeared with a jet sweep and a wide screen to move the ball into Orange territory. The Tiger offense was clicking. Hunter Renfrow put the ball at the 9 on another wide screen. A facemask penalty gave the Tigers 1st and goal at the 4. Adam Choice powered his way down to the 2. Choice pushed it down just short of the goal line. The beef package (Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins) and Trevor went in motion, leaving Etienne in a wildcat formation to take the snap and punch it in. The Tigers finally had the lead 7-6.
Syracuse took over at the 25. The Tiger defense again smothered the Orange offense. And what is it with these punters Clemson faces that seem to have career days kicking? The Tigers took over at their own 13. Rodgers took a swing pass for 7 yards on first down. Choice pushed it ahead for 2 yards, leaving it 3rd and 1. Etienne got 3 yards to move the chains. Lawrence scrambled for 7 yards and then Etienne got loose to the Orange 33. The Tigers then appeared to have a good throw to Derrion Kendrick, but linemen down the field brought it back. On 2nd and 7, Lawrence just missed Higgins in the end zone. On 3rd down Lawrence had to throw it out of bounds scrambling away from a safety blitz. Greg Huegel missed the 47-yard field goal attempt, leaving the score 7-6 Clemson.
The Orange started at the 30. They had a 3 and 1 but a false start pushed it to 3rd and 6. The Orange WR then ran right by safety Nolan Turner and got down to the Tiger 14. A couple of plays later it was 2nd and goal from the 1. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey then ran it in to put the Orange up 13-7. Rodgers took a knee on the kickoff and Clemson started at the 25. Choice got 6 yards on 1st down and on 2nd, Lawrence couldn’t quite connect with Higgins. Renfrow converted on 3rd down. Choice then ran hard to move the chains again. Guard Cade Stewart then got whipped and Lawrence was sacked. On 3rd down Lawrence had to scramble and took a hard hit as the Orange defender put his shoulder into Lawrence’s head. No targeting was called and I have to admit that I still don’t understand the nuances of that rule, such as the no-call when NC State knocked Wayne Gallman out of the game a couple of years ago. The Tigers punted.
Syracuse took over on their 11. The Tiger defense held on 1st and 2nd, but they got a 30-yard pass to get out of trouble. It was reported at this point that Lawrence would not be returning. The Orange moved down the field as they had the Tiger defense on their heels. On 3rd and 4 at the 14, pressure from the Tiger defense forced a throw out of bounds. Syracuse then kicked another FG to make the score 16-7 Orange.
Rodgers took the kickoff out to the 20 and the Tigers started with 19 seconds left and ran the clock out with Chase Brice at QB. Coach Swinney said that he didn’t know if Lawrence would return until he talked to the doctors at halftime.
After halftime Swinney said that Lawrence would not return. The Tigers took the touchback and started their drive by running Etienne and Choice very effectively. They eventually got into 3rd and 11 and Brice was sacked when Mitch Hyatt got beaten by the DE. Clemson punted away. Syracuse took over at the 14. The Tigers started getting some pressure on Dungey and the drive didn’t amount to much. The Orange punted back to the Tigers.
Clemson started at their 22 and got some yardage but Brice overthrew T.J. Chase on 3rd down and the Orange intercepted in Clemson territory. The Tiger defense forced a 3rd and 14 and Syracuse couldn’t convert. The defense came to the rescue once again. Etienne started the drive with a 21-yard run. The Tigers got to 3rd and 8 and guess who came through with a big catch? Mr. Reliable Hunter Renfrow. On the next 3rd down, they tried a jet sweep pass from Rodgers to Higgins, but couldn’t connect it. Clemson settled for a 43-yard FG to cut the Syracuse lead to 16-10.
Syracuse got the ball after the touchback and a couple of plays into their drive, Dungey threw it to A.J. Terrell who took the interception back to the 25. Choice and Etienne runs got the Tigers to 3rd and 5. The officials were blind and let Rodgers be held on a beautiful Brice throw in the end zone. The Tigers had to settle for a FG and the score was 16-13 Orange.
Syracuse got the ball and moved a bit, but on 3rd down they couldn’t convert and punted the ball away. But, Rodgers muffed the punt and the Orange got the ball at the Tiger 10. K’Von Wallace had a couple of good plays and forced the 3rd and goal which they didn’t convert. On 4th and 1 , the Orange punched it in. The score was 23-13 Syracuse with about 14 minutes left in the game.
The Tigers took the touchback and Etienne got a yard on 1st down. Brice then connected with Justyn Ross to move the out to the 42. On the next play, Ross got it down to the Orange 43. Etienne moved it to the 31. After Rodgers dropped a screen, Etienne took it in for the score. The Tigers were within three at 23-20 with 11 minutes left. Syracuse started at the 25 and moved out to the 48 with a couple of good plays. The Tiger defense then forced a 4th and 1. The Orange went for it and appeared to convert with a nice hot pass call to the TE, but a lineman downfield brought it back, forcing the Orange to punt.
Etienne started the drive with a 17-yard run. The Tigers faced a 3rd and 7 after Etienne tripped on 2nd down as he broke through the line. On 3rd down Brice rolled left but got sacked when Milan Richard couldn’t block the DE and the Tigers punted. Syracuse took over at their 31. The Tiger defense forced 3rd and 9 and the Orange couldn’t convert. Renfrow fielded the 55-yard punt at the Tiger 12 but a holding penalty pushed it back to the 6. Maybe the Tigers need to start putting pressure on these punters who just keep booming them and putting the offense in a deep hole.
The Tiger drive started with another couple of good runs by Etienne. The Orange defense was looking a bit tired as Feaster came in and pushed the ball out near mid-field. The Orange got the Tigers to 4th and 1 but Gage Cervenka committed a false start and Clemson had 4th and 6. Brice hit Higgins and converted the first down. Brice then took off on an option and got down to the 15. Feaster came in and ran like a beast down to the 5. He then pushed it down to the 3. Etienne came in and got to the end zone. Clemson was back in the lead 27-23 with 41 seconds left in the game.
The Orange drive started with a good scramble by Dungey but the Orange committed a personal foul penalty and got pushed back to the 13. X-Man Xavier Thomas then blew by the right tackle and sacked Dungey. It was 2nd and 30 with 20 seconds left. A sideline completion made it 3rd and 17. An incomplete pass made it 4th and 17 with 12 seconds left. Dungey got the ball to his RB but the Tigers made the stop and secured the win.
The Tigers escaped, even after the worst nightmare of losing Trevor Lawrence to injury. There was a lot of talk about whether Kelly Bryant would come back, but my take is that you only get one opportunity to abandon your team. Clemson should embrace Chase Brice and move on. Let us know what you think in the comments section and check back with us on the best, most detailed analysis of Clemson football to be found on the web, and previews of what awaits the Tigers at Wake Forest next week.