When you’ve got the defending national champion and consensus No. 1 team in the country at your place and they’re four-touchdown favorites, you’ve got to play a near perfect game to beat them. You cannot beat yourselves and you cannot make mistakes. Syracuse beat themselves and made mistakes in an ugly 41-6 loss to Clemson on Saturday night inside the Dome.
The first Syracuse possession of the ball game really set the tone for what the rest of the night was going to look like. The defense had just forced a three-and-out against one of the potentially best offenses in the country. Tommy DeVito had Taj Harris wide open over the middle on a third down for a would-be first. Harris saw the ball go through his hands (miscue No. 1). Clemson would go on to find the end zone on the ensuing possession to take a 7-0 lead.
Fast forward to the next drive for the ‘Cuse and a snap infraction and a hold from the offensive line (the first of many, many mistakes, miscues and misplays from the O-Line on the night) forces Syracuse to punt again and again Trevor Lawrence and Co. march down the field for a score to take a 14-0 lead aided by ridiculous 30+ yard pass from Lawrence with an extra 15 tacked on for a boneheaded roughing the passer from Kingsley Jonathan (miscue No. 2).
Eventually the defense tightened up to stop the bleeding and DeVito started to look like he was getting in a little bit of a rhythm with a couple of nice throws down the field despite being consistently harassed by a relentless Clemson pass rush that Syracuse had absolutely zero answer for. Again and again Tommy would get the ball and a split second later, a swarm of Tigers’ defenders were in the backfield with him. The offensive line looked like swiss cheese all night long and wound up giving up 8 sacks and leading the way for just 15 rushing yards on 27 carries. That needs to be a point of emphasis for SU going forward otherwise DeVito is going to have zero shot at being even close to effective.
Despite a complete lack of ability to move the football downfield aside from back-to-back screen passes to Moe Neal that went for a combined 67 yards and set SU up with a first-and-goal from the eight (they’d settle for a field goal, missed opportunity/miscue No. 3), Syracuse mustered a pair of Andre Szmyt field goals in the first half and trailed just 17-6 heading into the halftime locker room and there was still hope inside the Dome.
Even more hope came around when Christopher Fredrick picked off Trevor Lawrence on the Tigers’ first possession of the second half to set up the offense with another goal-to-go situation at the Clemson nine yard-line. It seemed like they had a shot to make it a one-possession game, until DeVito made another poor read (very similar to the one last week against Maryland) and tossed an interception into the waiting arms of a Clemson defender on the very first play of the possession (missed opportunity No. 4).
It looked like the Orange defense was on the verge of a huge three-and-out when Amari Rodgers caught a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage on third down and Antwan Cordy had his hands on the Clemson wideout. Cue missed opportunity No. 5. Rodgers slipped out of Cordy’s grasp and then made Evan Foster miss on his way to a heartbreaking 87-yard jaunt that took even more energy out of the Dome.
Still though, Syracuse was only down 23-6, not a completely insurmountable lead and look at that, Trill Williams picks off Lawrence again and returns it inside the Clemson five. Surely Syracuse would score with four plays from the three, right? Nope. Four straight run plays, four straight stops and Syracuse squanders another major opportunity to put points on the board (missed opportunity No. 6)
Clemson has won 20 straight regular season games and dominated their way to a national title last year. They’re really, really good. They don’t need your help to win football games. Syracuse gave them that help with all of those missed opportunities and boneheaded mistakes and penalties. Clemson kept them in the game way longer than they should have been. At some points, it felt like the Tigers were begging Syracuse to take advantage in way or another and the Orange never did quite take the bull by the horns.
The biggest fix going into the next few weeks has got to be the offensive line. Yes, this is the best defense they will see all season long, but they got absolutely railroaded on Saturday. They looked overmatched in the trenches and didn’t even give Tommy DeVito a chance. Tommy didn’t have the best game, either, and he needs to tweak some things this week to start playing at least near his potential, but the offensive line has to help him out at some point.
As for the defense, you picked off Trevor Lawrence twice, good on you. Andre Cisco hobbled off in the third quarter after the Rodgers touchdown so that’s a bit of a concern that we here at Orange Fizz will keep you updated on moving forward, but overall, the 41 points they gave up this week really doesn’t feel like that many and they forced Clemson to attempt three field goals. Overall, not a bad performance.
If there was one bright spot on the night for the Orange, it was the play of Sterling Hofrichter. I mean, the guy was absolutely unstoppable. He averaged 52.2 yards per punt on nine kicks on the night, including pinning three inside the 20-yard line and drilling one 65 yards that wound up setting up Clemson inside their own five. It might be time to revive the #SyracusePunterForHeisman thing because he was unreal. #HofForHeisman has an even better ring than #DixonForHeisman.
Oh yeah, selling out the Dome and having the third-largest crowd in the history of the building on hand should be a considered a positive as well.
At the end of the night, it’s time to regroup for Syracuse football and right the wrongs that were realized on Saturday night in the Dome, building on the few positives there were along the way.