The most anticipated football game of the new millennium is officially underway inside the Carrier Dome and while it has certainly not been a picture perfect game from the Orange, the ‘Cuse is hanging tough with the No. 1 team in the country. Overall, it’s been a pretty great bounce-back after last week’s train-wreck. Here are the takeaways with 30 minutes of football in the books.
Mistakes Put You in Holes
Not sure if it was because of the adrenaline coursing through their veins because of the largest crowd in the Dome in two decades, but Syracuse did not come out sharp in the early goings of this football game. Taj Harris dropped a for-sure first down on third and medium on the Orange’s first drive of the ball game which set up Clemson for their first TD of the ball game. Fast forward to the next offensive possession for the ‘Cuse and a promising drive is stalled by a snap infraction and a holding penalty. Trevor Lawrence and Co. get the ball back and the golden boy completes an absurd pass with an absurd catch to Tee Higgins for 30+ yards before Kingsley Jonathan roughs the QB to make matters even worse and tack on an extra 15 yards which all of a sudden puts SU in a 14-0 hole. The Tigers are the defending national champions and the consensus No. 1 team in the country for a reason. They are really, really good. You don’t need to help them out for them to have success. They’ll have it on their own. Mental miscues and drops will KILL you against a team of this caliber. SU cleaned it up in the later stages of the half, but putting yourself in a hole like that is not how you wanted to see the Orange come out.
So Many Weapons
The SU defense got much, much better as the half went on, but it’s still evident that from a pure talent perspective, Clemson has a MAJOR upper hand. They can throw so many different looks with so many different personnel. Three different Tigers had multiple catches in the first half they had them in so many different ways: screens, crosses, posts, deep shots, everything was working, especially for WR Tee Higgins. He had an unreal first half and continually sliced and diced the Syracuse secondary into submission. Trevor Lawrence is a whole other weapon in his own right and had two or three very well executed designed runs, including one that went for a touchdown. The guy was feeling it so much that he was talking trash in the middle of finding his way into the end zone. Travis Etienne hasn’t been as explosive as he had been in each of the past two years against SU, but he’s still a home run threat every time he touches the football. That’s not to mention the other weapons that Dabo Swinney has holstered away that we haven’t even seen yet. The Orange D is hanging tough, but it looks very bend-don’t-break right now and that may not last forever.
Tommy Can Get into a Rhythm… If SU Finds a Way to Stop the Pass Rush
Tommy DeVito showed exactly why SU fans were so excited to see him handed the keys to the sports car that is the Orange’s up-tempo, high-octane offense toward the end of the first quarter. He threw a picture-perfect deep ball that went through Trishton Jackson’s hands in the end zone (didn’t really end up mattering thanks to an illegal shift penalty) and then he followed it up with an absolute DIME to the boundary and freshman TE Luke Benson to end the quarter. He started making better decisions under pressure as the half wore on and looked like he might be starting to build up some personal momentum until Brent Venables unleashed the pass rush. The young gunslinger was under constant duress in the second quarter and couldn’t even get a split second to think before a swarm of Tigers were in the backfield with him. The guy can’t show off his gifts if he doesn’t even have time to think or breathe. We saw it on the scoring drive toward the end of the half and they looked potent offensively. SU might have to get creative with protections in the second half to give themselves a chance offensively. 6 sacks a half is not going to get the job done.