They say that defense wins championships. Syracuse fans beg to differ.
Despite a hard-fought first half effort, Syracuse was unable to muster anything offensively in Columbia on Saturday night. The Orange fell to the Tigers 16-6.
In the first half, the Orange defense held backup quarterback Cole Stoudt and the Clemson offense to just 157 yards en route to a 6-3 halftime lead. Both offenses were abysmal in the first half and much of the third quarter, as the first touchdown didn’t come until the first play of the fourth. The Orange was undefeated when leading at halftime in the Scott Shafer era, but that quickly ended.
Stoudt filled in for true freshman Clemson starter Deshaun Watson. Stoudt, who was the Tigers’ starter at the beginning of the year, finished the game with 209 passing yards on 24-of-35 completions.
Stoudt was overly ineffective in the first half, leading Clemson to just 96 passing yards. He only had 14 yards through the end of the first quarter. However, Stoudt was a starter at the start of the year, so the Syracuse defense must have been doing something right. Mixing pressure and good coverage downfield, the Orange dialed up the heat on Clemson and Stoudt and picked off two balls early. The pressure was nothing new for the Orange defense, which blitzed on exactly half of its plays entering the game.
The only area that Clemson excelled in was the running game. The Tigers managed 61 first half rushing yards, and finished with 166. Wayne Gallman led the way with 101 yards. Nearly all of Stoudt’s 96 passing yards in the first half came via screens or short slants. Clemson, who features talented downfield wide receiver Mike Williams, found no cracks in the Orange’s defense in the first half.
Syracuse also played quality third down defense to start, keeping Clemson to just three first downs on seven attempts. In fact, until the Tigers’ first touchdown, the Orange defense had held the Clemson offense scoreless on the three possessions that it had started in Orange territory. Two ended in turnovers, while another ended in a punt because of a bad snap.
Syracuse’s first half defense was so elite, in fact, that it didn’t even give the Clemson offense a chance to punt the ball in the first half. Every Tiger possession ended in either a turnover or a field goal.
One would have thought that the Orange offense would have seemed competent in the game with starting wide receiver Ashton Broyld returning from injury, but the shifty sophomore only finished with 49 yards. Leader Jarrod West did little, either. Clemson’s lights-out 3rd down defense and outstanding defensive line ultimately got to Syracuse signal caller AJ Long. He was sacked four times by Clemson. The Orange was also just 3-of-16 on third down on the night. Clemson led the nation with 40 three-and-outs before Saturday.
Essentially, the Orange had a golden opportunity to take control of the game in the first half when Clemson was turning the ball over at an alarming rate. But, the offense was unable to click, coach Dabo Swinney made the right halftime adjustments, and Clemson got just enough production out of its offense to squeak by Syracuse at home.
If Syracuse wants to win ballgames, the offense needs to put points on the board (albeit, against much softer defenses in the coming weeks). The poor offensive showing on Saturday night just won’t get the job done.
Posted: Jason Weingold