After not one, but two train wrecks in back-to-back weeks, Syracuse’s stocks looked to be stuck in a bear market. However, in a most unexpected turn of fortune, the Orange kept it close with top-ranked Clemson for three quarters before falling apart in the fourth and losing 47-21. Since SU performed at a much better level than expected, the stocks have climbed out of the gutter, and we can now return to normalcy with this week’s Stock Up, Stock Down.
Dino Babers: There are certain teams that seem to act as proverbial kryptonite for college football’s giants. In the SEC, Alabama always seems to struggle with Ole Miss. Arizona State is always sneaky good out West (they nixed Oregon’s chances at a Playoff berth last year), and Iowa State has ruined many a season in the Big 12. Syracuse might just be that team for Clemson, and it’s mainly because Dino Babers is leading the program. Everyone knows the talent gap is massive, but Babers’s team is able to compete with Dabo Swinney’s year after year, and that speaks to a head coach’s ability to motivate his players. Syracuse challenged Clemson without its starting quarterback, best receiver (Babers did the difficult but correct thing last weekend by leaving Taj Harris at home), and best defensive player. While the narrative is “Syracuse played well,” the reason why SU played well is the head coach. There won’t be any “fire Dino” talk this week.
Garrett Williams: After a couple of down weeks, Williams shone on the big stage, and made it clear that he’s SU’s next lockdown corner. He recorded eight tackles, including one for loss, and two pass breakups. After early incompletions, Lawrence stayed away from Williams’s side of the field, instead choosing to go after Ahman Greenwood. Most notably, Williams snagged an interception and returned it for a touchdown, the first time Trevor Lawrence had ever thrown a pick-six (Lawrence’s toss flew behind a streaking Amari Rodgers, who tipped it right into Williams’s hands). His patience on the return showed a maturity beyond his years.
The Front Six: Most Syracuse fans and pundits questioned the effort and effectiveness of the SU run defense after the Liberty stinker. Last Saturday, they stood up to the challenge. The energy was there for the first three quarters before fatigue set in (the D was also put in a couple of tough spots by the offense, which we’ll get to in a second). There were no run plays of 30-plus yards, and only a few plays where massive gaps appeared in the line of scrimmage. The Orange held Travis Etienne, who many regard as the best back in the country, to 86 yards. SU actually outgained Clemson on the ground. Who would’ve thought?!
Special Teams: SU fans are aware of Nolan Cooney’s excellence, but it was nice to see the rest of the special teams unit step up. The Orange blocked their first punt since the Wagner game two years ago, and also were able to down a tumbling Cooney punt inside the five-yard line. The only mishap was Nykiem Johnson catching a punt at the SU three, and subsequently trying to return it.
Rex Culpepper: Culpepper doesn’t have to be anything except a game manager. However, against the Tigers, he tried to create plays that weren’t there. The fifth-year senior tried to force the ball into tight windows too many times, and Clemson made him pay for it with 3 interceptions. Two of those were throws that were behind receivers, and the third was a telegraphed throw that Clemson LB Mike Jones Jr. read all the way. Culpepper was also loose with the ball in the pocket, and once had it punched out for a scoop-and-score. While the Tiger D has elite athletes, any ACC defense can take advantage of bad mistakes. Most SU fans don’t believe Culpepper should be seeing the majority of playing time. Errors like these compound those beliefs.
Vegas: Whatever fool out West that thought of the odds must’ve not watched the Syracuse-Clemson games in 2017, 2018, or 2019. Syracuse was a 46-point underdog, the largest line in the ACC since 2000 (Florida State was a 48-point favorite over Wake Forest). After the loss to Liberty, most downers (myself included) could see that outcome occurring. But everyone seemed to forget that Babers has the magic touch when it comes to the Tigers. Some guy actually bet $8,600 on Clemson to win for only a gain of $8.60! That’s how confident people were of a Tiger victory. I’m sure he was freaking out in the middle of the third quarter.