When the game started, Clemson’s offense sputtered as the Syracuse faithful howled loudly, but by the end of three quarters, the game was no longer competitive and the Syracuse student section was mighty quiet:
Syracuse student section in total exodus entering the 4th Q. Our defense is dominant! pic.twitter.com/Zaw8hgyBZG— Ryan Kantor (@ryan_kantor) September 15, 2019
The Tigers won 41-6 and improved to 3-0. Beyond getting another step to accomplishing the team goals, here are my takeaways from the Tigers’ triumph:
Trevor Lawrence is human, but he’s still really good…
Trevor Lawrence threw two INTs, one on a bad decision where the receiver was completely covered and Lawrence tried to throw him open. At times, he seemed reliant on his elite receivers to win jump balls or make plays in open space. In fairness, they often did. Tee Higgins was awesome, reeling in 7 catches for 150 yards.
Lawrence now has 5 INTs on the season. His Heisman campaign is essentially over (especially with Tua Tagovailoa’s 444 yards this week and Jalen Hurts proving to be in the mix). The ACC is really bad though so getting 15 A+ games from Trevor Lawrence doesn’t really matter (it will matter more next year when we want to see him get drafted as highly as possible). Frankly, he can play his D+ game and Clemson should still be fine against teams like Boston College, who just lost to Kansas, NC State, who just got blown out by a rebuilding WVU, or Charlotte who comes to Death Valley this coming weekend. I tend to think the struggles give him a spark for further growth and refinement.
Travis Etienne’s Heisman campaign is dead too…
After Etienne’s 205-yard 3-TD season opening performance, he’s been held under 80 yards in each of the two subsequent games. The advent of Trevor Lawrence as a running threat has also taken away some of his red zone opportunities. Lawrence has a rushing touchdown in each of the past two games while Etienne has none. A 2,000 yard 25 TD campaign, the outrageous pace that would be necessary for a RB to beat a QB for the prestigious-yet-silly Heisman Trophy is likely out of reach. What’s more important though is he is healthy. He took a shot against Syracuse and briefly left the game. After seeing that, I don’t care too much about the Heisman and am just glad he is healthy.
Etienne actually looked good as both a runner and a pass-catcher against Syracuse. It was hardly his fault that he averaged what for him is a bad 5.4 YPC (this is actually a perfectly fine YPC, but for him its very bad). The offensive line just didn’t seem to open big lanes for him. It was odd, as it seemed like Syracuse’s rather green linebacking corps would be susceptible to allowing big runs, but that wasn’t really the case. They played much better than they had against Maryland.
How cool was it to see Rodgers emerge as the star of the game? He found the end zone early with a 16-yard catch and later added the 87-yard catch and run along the sideline. On the latter, he broke a tackle and then outran a defender to the edge.
He nearly stepped out of bounds, but after review, the play stood.
He sure looks healthy. I imagine with this performance the kid gloves come off and Amari Rodgers will become a bigger part of the offense, even if he isn’t immediately named a starter.
I’ve got the most to say about our defense so I’ve saved it for last.
What a performance against Syracuse. They stole the show! 8 sacks! 15 TFLs! It could have been even more, but Tommy DeVito demonstrated good mobility and stepped up in the pocket to evade pressure on several occasions.
Brent Venables observed Iowa State practice this offseason where he learned more about using a 3-man front. It appears 3-3-5 look he threw at Texas A&M wasn’t a one-time thing. We saw a lot of Nolan Turner on the field with both Muse and Wallace in this one. Nolan has been great and Coach Venables has found creative ways to get him on the field.
Isaiah Simmons had 11 tackles including 2 sacks. Chad Smith had a sack and Jamie Skalski had 1.5 sacks. Despite losing Tre Lamar, Kendall Joseph, and Shaq Smith, the linebackers have been great. Tyler Davis has been great at DT and really solved a lot of the depth issues.
CB Derion Kendrick went down with back spasms in the game and CB Mario Goodrich thrust into action rose to the occasion. He came up with his first career INT in what was the biggest play of the game:
This INT came with Clemson holding onto a slim 17-6 lead. Clemson had just thrown an INT deep in their own red zone and Syracuse seemed primed to slash into the lead, but it was not to be. Later in the third quarter, leading 24-6, Clemson came up with another big stop when Isaiah Simmons sacked QB Tommy DeVito on 4th down. The two red zone stops in this game were incredible. If this defense can keep this up, DC Brent Venables deserves his second Broyles Award. The job he is doing is amazing.
Next week the Tigers get a rare night game against a Group of Five (Conference USA) opponent. Look out for a Viewing Guide to come later this week as a primer for that and the rest of Week’s 4 action.