After last week’s complete and utter destruction of Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Clemson returned to Death Valley to take on a Syracuse team sitting at 1-4 with their sole win over the Yellow Jackets. Syracuse has played well against Clemson over the last few years, but this year’s Orange team was not expected to present any problems to the Tiger juggernaut. But, as in years past, the Orange made a game of it well into the 3rd quarter.
Lyn-J Dixon took the opening kickoff out to the Syracuse 47. Amari Rodgers took a quick pass from Trevor Lawrence to the 37. He picked up another 10 on the next play. A couple of plays later, Lawrence hit Cornell Powell who took it 25 yards to the end zone. Less than 90 seconds into the game, Clemson led 7-0. Syracuse tested the middle of the Tiger defense a couple of times, and then threw an incomplete pass to go 3 & out. The punt rolled out of bounds at the Clemson 36.
On 2nd down, Travis Etienne put the ball on the turf but Rodgers recovered it. The Tigers couldn’t convert on 3rd down and punted. Will Spiers’ 64-yard punt rolled into the end zone. On 2nd down, Nolan Turner intercepted a pass and returned it to the Orange 13.
Etienne was tackled for a 7-yard loss but then picked up 6. A short pass to Etienne didn’t net enough to move the chains, so B.T. Potter came in and kicked a 24-yard FG to give the Tigers a 10-0 lead at the 8:46 mark of the 1st quarter. The Orange got a 1st down on their possession but couldn’t convert 3rd & 8. They went for it on 4th & 1 but didn’t even get to the line of scrimmage. Clemson took over at the Orange 43.
Dixon picked up 8 on 1st down. On 3rd down, Lawrence rolled left and hit Frank Ladson at the 15. Rodgers picked up 5 yards on a hitch pass, but Jackson Carman was called for holding. Etienne then took it 25 yards to the house. With 4:25 to go in the quarter, the Tigers led 17-0. The Orange couldn’t do much against the Tiger defense on their possession and punted.
Lawrence hit Brannon Spector for 4 yards on 1st down, and Dixon carried it to the Orange 44 for the 1st down. Three incomplete passes later, the Tigers had to punt. At this point, the Tigers just did not seem to be playing with much intensity. Poor blocking led to a blocked punt, and Syracuse recovered it at the Tiger 20. After a few plays the Orange scored, making it 17-7 Tigers with 14:15 left in the half.
Starting from the 25, Etienne picked up 4 yards. Lawrence hit E.J. Williams out to the 50. Etienne picked up 7 yards on a couple of carries to set up 3rd & 3. The Orange got pressure on Lawrence and he had to throw the ball away. Setting up to punt, Spiers kept it and converted the 1st down. The Tigers continued down the field, including a QB throwback from Rodgers to Lawrence. They got to the 20 and faced 3rd & 4 but couldn’t convert. Potter missed the FG. Clemson looked very flat. Football is an emotional game, and the Tigers didn’t seem to be playing with any emotion at all. The Orange started with a 21-yard run and then added 6 more. But the drive stalled there and Rodgers fielded the punt at the Clemson 13.
Rodgers took a short pass and did some shake and bake to get 14 yards. Etienne picked up 8 on 1st down. On 3rd down, Dixon moved the sticks. Rodgers then almost made a spectacular catch on a long ball but the defender stripped it away at the last second. That was one of those situations where two guys simply made athletic plays. On 2nd & 8, Joseph Ngata took a screen pass for 7. Etienne slipped free up the middle on 3rd & 1 and got to the Orange 21. A couple of plays later, Lawrence hit a wide open Davis Allen up the middle for the TD. With 2:54 left in the half, Clemson led 24-7. Orange RB Sean Tucker was showing some nice running skills, moving the ball out to the 39. But the Tigers forced 4th & 7 a few plays later and the Orange punted.
Lawrence threw a little behind Rodgers over the middle and the ball bounced of his hands and into the hands of a Syracuse defender, who then ran it back for the score. At 1:18 in the half, Clemson was up 24-14. Lawrence was having an atypically bad day in terms of accuracy. Throws to Braden Galloway and Rodgers moved the ball out near midfield. A Lawrence run took it to the 43 and a couple more runs took it to the 31 with 14 seconds left. A few short throws set up a 36-yard FG attempt, and Potter put it through to give Clemson a 27-14 lead.
The Orange had the ball first in the 2nd half but went 3 & out. Etienne had a couple of runs to move the ball out to the 43. The Orange got pressure on Lawrence on 1st down and Dixon got tackled for a loss to put the Tigers at 3rd & 15. Lawrence hit Dixon, who worked his way out to the 49. Clemson decided to punt and the Orange got the ball at their 4 on good coverage by the punt team.
A few plays into their drive, the Orange struck for an 83-yard TD when their receiver got behind safety Joseph Charleston. If the Tigers thought this was going to be a cakewalk, they were being reminded of how Syracuse has been a thorn in their side in recent years. If they were going to win this one, the Tigers needed to pick up the energy level and not be just going through the motions. Lawrence was continuing to show poor accuracy on his throws and the Tigers went 3 & out.
The Orange possession ended in a punt that was covered at the Tiger 3. A couple of short runs by Chez Mellusi and a 3rd down catch by Ngata got a 1st down. Rodgers then took a hitch to the 29, then a high snap moved them back to the 16. On 3rd & 14, Lawrence couldn’t connect with Powell and the Tigers punted.
The Orange took possession at their 31. Mike Jones and Bryan Bresee forced a strip sack and Andrew Booth picked it up and ran it in. Clemson led 34-21 with 1:26 left in the 3rd quarter. Maybe that would be the spark to ignite the Tigers. On the next Orange possession, the Tiger defense put them at 3rd & 8 and they couldn’t convert. Rodgers fielded the punt at the Tiger 33.
Rodgers caught a screen pass and took it to the Syracuse 44. A face mask penalty on the next play moved it to the 21. Etienne took a flare pass to the 9 and then he ran it in. The Tigers went for two but Lawrence could connect with Galloway in the corner of the end zone. Clemson led 40-21 with 13:38 left. The Orange had a decent drive started, but Jones stepped in front of a receiver and took the interception down to the 3. Runs by Mellusi and Etienne put the ball at the 1 for 3rd & goal. Etienne punched it in and with 10:45 left, Clemson led 47-21.
The Orange had another good drive ruined by an interception. D.J. Uiagalelei came in at QB. The Tigers leaned on Kobe Pace running the ball. Darien Rencher also got some touches. D.J. hit J.C. Chalk for a 1st down out to the 32. The drive stalled after that and Clemson punted.
So, the Tigers walked away with a victory after a somewhat lackluster performance. There will be plenty for the Tigers to work on this week, but they just seemed unenthused about playing Syracuse today. The defense did play a pretty good game, but the offense really sputtered a lot. Let’s hear your thoughts on the game in the comments section below. Check back with us over the next few days for reviews of the game and previews of the Boston College game in Death Valley next week.