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Clemson Football

One Last Rewind: Syracuse

September 19, 2019

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The matchups between Clemson and Syracuse the past two seasons have been filled with drama. During both games, Clemson’s starting quarterback was knocked out of the contest, allowing the Orange to beat Clemson, one of the top teams in college football.

In 2017, minus Kelly Bryant, the Tigers couldn't escape the Carrier Dome with a win. If it weren't for the heroics of backup quarterback Chase Brice in 2018, Clemson doesn't leave Death Valley victorious.

This battle between Syracuse and Clemson was beginning to feel like a rivalry, but Saturday night was much less dramatic.

Clemson's defense was superb, and eventually, the No. 1 Tigers took over. Last season’s hero, Brice, didn't have to enter until things were well in hand as Clemson walked away from the Orange, 41-6.

Roller coaster ride

Clemson went up 14-0 courtesy of two first-quarter touchdowns. The first coming on a beautiful throw from Trevor Lawrence to Amari Rodgers. Lawrence pump-faked then connected with Rodgers for a 16-yard touchdown.

The Tigers’ second touchdown occurred when Lawrence found his way into the endzone on the read-option, pulling the ball from Lyn-J Dixon and looking back at the Syracuse defenders while crossing the goal line. 

At that point, it looked like the Tigers were on their way to routing the Orange. After those two early scores, Clemson seemed to back away from the run game, opting to try and hit Syracuse over the top. Clemson failed to connect as often as they would have liked giving the Orange time to hang around. 

Had Clemson pounded the football more in the first half, perhaps the story of the first half would have been different. Instead, holding just a 17-6 lead at the break left many wondering if we were in for another tight battle.

© Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
James Skalski celebrates a big play in the Carrier Dome.

Heat 'em up

Clemson came into Saturday’s contest with six sacks in the first two games, but Brent Venables sent the heat all night long, and Syracuse didn’t deal with it well. The Tigers sunk their teeth in with eight sacks and gave multiple looks from the safeties and linebackers to confuse quarterback Tommy DeVito.

The defense also disrupted the Orange rushing attack yielding just 15 rushing yards on 42 attempts.

Heading into the game, Syracuse had to shuffle their offensive line around due to an injury to their starting center. That typically doesn’t end well when you’re going up against an aggressive defense like Clemson. 

The story about defense this season has been their play in the red zone. Much like the first two games of the season, Venables ramped things up, and with their backs against the wall, Clemson's defense struck gold. Syracuse entered the red zone four times and came away with just two field goals. In all three games this year, Clemson has intercepted the football inside the five-yard line. Incredible. 

Mario Goodrich’s interception of DeVito on the ensuing play following one of Lawrence’s interceptions, early in the third quarter, sparked the Tigers who were still clinging to a 17-6 lead. With the ball back in their hands, Lawrence found Amari Rodgers who broke a tackle, turned upfield, and blazed to the endzone from 87-yards out giving Clemson a much more comfortable 24-6 lead.

Looking Ahead

If you had told this writer back in the summer that it would be Clemson’s defense leading the pack while the offense finds its rhythm, I wouldn’t have believed it. When you think about all the talent that Clemson has on the offensive side of the football and the losses they had on defense, no one could have seen this coming. 

Lawrence hasn’t looked like the Heisman Trophy candidate, and he’s already thrown more interceptions (5) than he did all of last year.

Still, there are plenty of positives, and as the staff has noted all week, the offense is still a work in progress. For example, Lawrence threw for a career-high 395 yards and added three touchdowns while rushing for another. The Tigers ran away from another opponent without looking sharp, which is really scary.

Once the Tiger offense puts together a complete game-- look out. This team’s best football is still in front of them.

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One Last Rewind: Syracuse

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