This felt very reminiscent of the Duke basketball game last February. Unquestionably the biggest home clash of the season. An Otto’s Army campout before the game. An incredibly large amount of hype going in. But like the Blue Devils did seven months ago, Clemson silenced the Syracuse faithful rather quickly. The Orange fell to the Tigers 31-14 to pick up their first loss of the season.
Make no mistake about it, though the score may say otherwise the result was less about the Clemson’s might and more about SU’s poor discipline. The Orange had several chances to get back into the game after falling behind early and the Tigers made some key mistakes as well, but it didn’t matter. Three categories of discipline led to Syracuse’s demise on Saturday.
First things first, the offensive line. We knew it would be challenged against a tough Clemson front seven, but that performance was abysmal. Garrett Shrader didn’t have the best day, but it’s difficult to place the blame on him when he was running for his life time and time again.
And he didn’t get a ton of help from his weapons either. SU’s ball security in the contest was awful. Donovan Brown dropped a wide open pass (on a trick play from Dan Villari too), Damien Alford (absent for the most part after last weekend’s career game) couldn’t hang on to the ball through contact, and LeQuint Allen completely botched a pitch that set up Clemson inside the Syracuse 5-yard line. Three turnovers in total for the Orange. Not ideal.
Apparently it’s too big of an ask to play even semi-disciplined football. Nine penalties for 92 yards in the biggest home game of the season is an excellent way to take an energized crowd out of the game. Predictably, many of them were avoidable. A false start on the edge of the goal line. Marlowe Wax of all players with a late hit out of bounds. Multiple pass interference penalties. Running into the bleeping punter. Yellow handkerchiefs are not the sole reason to blame for the loss, but they played a large part, draining momentum when SU had an opportunity to get back in the game. Once again, we’re asking the players and coaching staff to clean it up. Speaking of which…
In the biggest game of the season, Dino Babers and his staff put on their unequivocally worst performance of the year. In addition to once again not having the team ready out of the chute, play calling was not good. Offensively there was a stretch of four deep throws down the sideline over six plays. It’s okay to try that every once in a while, not in a giant spurt like that. Trying to force run plays while in need of a comeback wasn’t exactly ideal either. But one bad decision stood out above all the rest.
Clemson wound up scoring a touchdown with its golden field position. If Syracuse elected to punt the ball there, there’s a strong chance it’s a one-score game at halftime. But instead, the Orange asked way too much of their first-year starter, and they paid the price.
That makes six consecutive SU losses against Clemson after the 2017 upset. With the ACC’s new scheduling format, the Tigers aren’t scheduled to return to the Dome for four years. That could change depending on how conference realignment shakes out. But for now, it’s hard to make an argument that Dino knows Dabo. There are lot of questions heading into next week’s matchup with North Carolina.