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Clemson vs Syracuse: Position Grades (Defense & ST)

Defense carries the Tigers to victory.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

The 1st half of this game couldn’t have gone worse for the Tigers. Not only did the offense turned the ball over 3 times, one of which was a scoop and score TD, but the defense wasn’t getting to Shrader and the Syracuse offense put up 14 points. Going into halftime, the only way Clemson was going to pull off a victory was for the defense to carry the offense until it would actually finish drives.

That is exactly what happened. After halftime, Syracuse got nothing going on offense. The DL began to win matchups and pressure Shrader. The LBs did a better job playing with their eyes and the secondary continued to stick to the Syracuse receivers and ensure that even if they did make a catch, they were dropped immediately. The offense finally got going and once they took the lead, the defense slammed the door in Syracuse’s face and sealed the Tiger’s 38th straight home victory, an ACC record that will probably never be broken.

Let’s take a look at how each group graded out.


The DL started the game poorly. Syracuse knew that we were going to key on Sean Tucker and exploited our aggression with runs from Shrader, one of which resulted in a TD. We also were not getting pressure on Shrader and on their 2nd drive of the game, they went right down the field through the air. Thankfully, after halftime things changed. The DL as a whole began to feast and the DEs were getting consistent pressure. Syracuse was forced into numerous 3 and outs and Shrader was having to run for his life due to Henry, Thomas, and Murphy finally winning one-on-one matchups.

KJ has become the most consistent DE on the team this year and leads the FBS power 5 rushers with 25 QB hurries and tallied another sack this game. Myles Murphy was abused with the zone read more than once in the 1st half but did play better in the 2nd. Thomas had his snaps reduced as he is still coming back from injury and Mascoll only had 11 snaps himself.

It would be nice for the DEs to find success early in the game to set the tone and KJ Henry seems to agree given the tweet he put out recently about their performance. However, they are stepping up when we need them to and are a big reason Syracuse was held scoreless in the 2nd half.

Grade: B


Syracuse knew that they wouldn’t be able to line up and push around our DTs. Like FSU they looked to exploit our aggressiveness with a running QB. This resulted in Shrader being their leading rusher with 71 yards on 21 carries. They only ran Sean Tucker 5 times for 54 yards and the lack of touches is what the defense was pushing for. It’s far better to make the QB have to take those runs rather than one of the best RBs in the county. Holding Syracuse to only 126 yards rushing is a win given their talented QB/RB combination.

In the 2nd half, the DL as a whole exerted itself with multiple TFLs and sacks. Tyler Davis has really turned it on and recorded 2 sacks. Bryan Breese looked much better this week slashing through the line to disrupt the backfield and a sack of his own. DT is where we’ve had a lot of injuries this year and the open date is coming at a great time to ensure everyone is as healthy as they can be and get this group back to full strength.

Grade: A-


This was not a great game by the LBs. With Barrett Carter out we only really played two LBs in Simpson and Trotter. Simpson was caught out of position many times and Shrader made him pay with gaining free yards on the ground. Simpson has been struggling with using his eyes and not being fooled by opposing offenses. He has to clean this up or teams will continue to target him. Trotter played well and has been the most consistent of our LBs this year but he was also not great. It’s a telling stat that the top 7 tacklers this game, were comprised of the DBs and DL.

We need better production from the LBs and hopefully Carter is back healthy soon to aid the position.

Grade: C-


The secondary held Shrader to only 167 yard passing and recorded an INT. The lone TD pass Syracuse made was a wheel route against KJ Henry. Nate Wiggins, Sheridan Jones and Malcolm Greene took a majority of the snaps at CB though Greene played mostly at the Nickel position to cover the absence of Barrett Carter. Oronde Gadsen is a great WR/TE and everyone knew he would be their primary threat. He was held to 86 yards on 6 catches which is solid but not a truly impactful performance.

All four of our safeties played well this game. Andrew Mukuba had a potential pick 6 but couldn’t pull it in. Jaylen Philips played well and lead the team in tackles with 7. RJ Mickens made his presence known with the game ending INT on a great play. Our safeties have improved their play this year and having them all back healthy is a huge boon. There have been no true busts since the Wake Forest game and that is a testament to how good this position is when we have everyone available.

This was the best remaining passing team we should see until the ACCCG and they couldn’t crack 200 yards through the air. The secondary is no longer a liability and teams aren’t going to find easy point against them so long as they stay healthy and focused.

Grade: B+


We don’t win this game without the defense being dominant. Wes Goodwin has proven that he is very good at making adjustments at half time and we witnessed it again last Saturday. Syracuse never scored in the 2nd half and aside from their last drive, couldn’t really move the ball at all. The defense stonewalled Syracuse until the offense got out of its own way and took the lead. It was frustrating to see Syracuse finally move the ball at the end of the game but the INT sealed the victory for the tigers. Only giving up 14 points to Syracuse is impressive and we should expect more of the same against the remaining opponents on our schedule.

Grade: B+


This was another great game by the special teams. Potter drilled another 2 FGs. Swanson only punted twice but averaged 52.5 yards a punt and was a weapon. Shipley continued to be dangerous as the kick returner while both Antonio Williams and Will Taylor looked good as punt returners. With the offense struggling, the defense and ST worked together to pick up the slack and help propel Clemson to an 8-0 start. It wasn’t long ago we lamented how mediocre our special team’s play was and now they are not only solid but one of the better units in the country.

Grade: A+


What grade do you give the Clemson Defense and ST against Syracuse?

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84 votes total Vote Now