Top-ranked Clemson has moved to 6-0 for the sixth consecutive season, but Syracuse made the Tigers sweat for a while in a 47-21 contest at Memorial Stadium, Saturday. The Orange trimmed the Tigers lead to six with an 83-yard pass play in the third quarter, but Brent Venables’ defense answered the bell, forcing Syracuse quarterback Rex Culpepper into three turnovers over the next twenty minutes of game time. First, linebacker Mike Jones, Jr. pressured Culpepper into the arms of defensive tackle Bryan Bresee. Bresee dislodged the ball and it was picked up and returned for a touchdown by cornerback Andrew Booth. Early in the fourth quarter, Jones, Jr. got into the action, again, this time by intercepting Culpepper and returning it to the Syracuse three-yard line. Finally, safety Jalyn Phillips turned away Syracuse’s final threat with an interception in the end zone. In all, Clemson’s defense forced four turnovers and made the game’s biggest plays in its most crucial moments.
Offensively, Trevor Lawrence was not as sharp as he had been in previous weeks, throwing a pick-six and missing open receivers. But Lawrence’s mediocre outings are better than most and the Heisman Trophy candidate still completed 27 of his 43 passes for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The win also moves Lawrence within one victory of the school record of 32, jointly held by Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson. Fellow All-American Travis Etienne was bothered by cramps throughout the game and was in the locker room for a long stretch of the third quarter. Clemson’s all-time leading rusher still managed to pick up 86 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. Etienne is just 43 yards from breaking Ted Brown’s (NC State) ACC career rushing record.
Syracuse found some offensive success where others had not, averaging 4.7 yards per rush against one of the nation’s best defenses. The Orange may have had more yardage on the ground if they hadn’t lost starting running back Sean Tucker late in the first half. Tucker had picked up 63 yards on ten carries before hobbling off with the Syracuse trainers. Overall, the Tigers surrendered 5.6 yards per play after giving up just 4.0 yards per play over the first five weeks. Some of that can be attributed to Dino Babers’ game plan and some can likely be attributed to key injuries. The Tigers were playing without linebacker James Skalski (groin), defensive tackle Tyler Davis (ankle) and cornerback Derion Kendrick (knee).
Clemson will again put its no. 1 ranking on the line next week when the Tigers welcome Boston College to Death Valley for a noon kickoff.
Postgame reaction from Death Valley: