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Same Ol’ SU: ‘Cuse’s Clemson Meltdown Was Predictable, But Not Devastating

Credit Dennis Nett/Courtesy Syracuse.com

Syracuse was there. It was on the precipice. 

When Garrett Shrader scampered into the endzone with 1:53 remaining in the second quarter, ESPN announcer and SU alum Sean McDonough just about lost his voice. Who could blame him? The Orange were up 21-7 in Death Valley over No. 5 Clemson. The Tigers looked unprepared and unenergized. Washed, even. SU’s visions of a lead of the ACC Atlantic and grasp of newfound respect were there for the taking. Analytics gave the ‘Cuse an 85 percent-plus chance to win as deep as the third quarter.

Then, Syracuse let the grains of a paradigm-shifting win slip through its fingers.

There are a lot of reasons SU couldn’t seal the deal against Clemson for the fifth year in a row. From Devaughn Cooper’s drop to penalty gaffes to Robert Anae’s stalled gameplan, the ‘Cuse took on a feeling of a team that was hopelessly ahead as soon as it began making familiar mistakes. As the Orange constricted over the last 23 minutes of gametime, it felt like we were helplessly watching a doomed golfer inevitably lose a lead at a major; think Jean van de Velde’s infamous ‘99 British Open or Jordan Spieth’s 2016 Masters loss. For those of you not golf-inclined, Syracuse’s near carbon-copy 2018 breakdown against the same Tigers works just fine as an apt comparison. 

However, SU didn’t cost itself a green jacket, nor the college football equivalent. It didn’t really come close. Saturday’s loss doesn’t lose Syracuse anything dear – just like it didn’t four years ago.

“It was a 25-second mistake [in the fourth quarter]…it will not, or should not happen again…that was bad.” (Dino Babers to media, 10/24/22)

In a refreshing and admirable display of accountability, Dino Babers devoted a large chunk of time Monday afternoon to explaining the mistakes that sunk the Orange on Saturday. Fittingly, the conference lasted just over 25 minutes – a neat bit of symmetry that mirrored the 25 seconds Babers wasted toward the end of the game by neglecting to use a timeout. After what ended up being just one more in a cascade of errors, Babers at the very least ended up cognizant of the moment. How soon time-management botches eerily similar to last year’s are sorted out is a different issue entirely.

Babers’ matter-of-factness befits the clear-headedness that seemed to take hold once the raw emotion following SU’s close shave with success subsided. As much as people complained about defensive lineman Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff’s penalty on Saturday, hearing Babers explain in detail why “Eli” wasn’t to blame for the team’s failure provokes nothing but empathy for a redshirt-freshman player. Both he and SU will be fine, as long as you let them be.

The Orange are still No. 16 in the AP Poll and bowl eligible with a vulnerable-looking Notre Dame team coming up on Saturday. What Syracuse may or may not have lost in the swirl of defeat on Saturday isn’t relevant now. For a program that gauges success on bowl appearances – not wins – hand-wringing about whether or not Syracuse just dropped from a could’ve-should’ve ACC title game trip to a likely Cheez-It Bowl berth isn’t a productive exercise. 

“You just gotta keep fighting through adversity…we let them in, but it’s one of those things where you have to keep fighting.” (Mikel Jones postgame, 10/22/22)

As SU prepares to try and stump Notre Dame for the first time since 2008, allow yourself to be frustrated with the fashion by which SU blew its chance against Clemson – but not over what a pleasantly surprising Syracuse team may have lost. If the Orange take down the Fighting Irish, the answer to the latter may be clear: not much confidence, if anything.

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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