Syracuse football falls short against #3 Clemson

SU football drops close game to Clemson

A final-minute touchdown ended SU's chance for another upset.
Published: September 30, 2018
Clemson vs SU
Clemson running back Adam Choice drives toward the end zone amid Syracuse defenders. The Tigers beat the Orange 27-23 Saturday afternoon.

In a battle of two undefeated teams — with one side featuring of one of the nation’s best offenses and the other side with one of the top defenses — the defense prevailed. Third-ranked Clemson squeaked by Syracuse, 27-23, in Death Valley on Saturday afternoon.

The Orange (4-1) entered the game with a top-10 scoring offense, putting an average of nearly 50 points on the scoreboard per game. At first, it appeared the offense would shine again. The Tigers deferred the ball, and the Orange controlled the tempo of the game early in their quest for another upset over the Tigers.

Syracuse’s Sean Riley rushed for 19 yards on a third down and three to keep the first SU possession alive, followed by an 18-yard completion to running back Moe Neal from quarterback Eric Dungey. The drive culminated with a 35-yard field goal from Andre Szmyt, giving the Orange a quick 3-0 lead.

On the first Clemson possession, the SU defense capitalized on a miscue. Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence fumbled on a read option and Alton Robinson recovered the ball at the Clemson 30-yard line.

Clemson Vs SU
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is upended in SU's 27-23 loss to Clemson Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.

After two incomplete passes from Dungey, Syracuse settled for a 51-yard field goal, which made it a 6-0 game.

Clemson, however, found some life before the end of the first quarter. Sophomore running back Travis Etienne — who ran for three touchdowns — rushed for a one-yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the quarter, giving the Tigers the lead heading into the second.

Clemson had a chance early in the second quarter to extend its lead but could not capitalize. A missed a 47-yard field goal with 10:10 left in the second quarter resulted in an SU touchdown on a Dungey quarterback keeper to give SU a 13-7 advantage.

SU continued to add to its lead the next possession. Szmyt connected on his third field goal with just 24 seconds remaining in the first half to put SU on top 16-7 at the break.

To make matters worse for Clemson, Lawrence suffered a head injury late in the second quarter and would not be able to return. The Clemson quarterback situation was already fuzzy after fellow QB Kelly Bryant announced he would transfer from the program midweek when head coach Dabo Sweeney named Lawrence the starter. Chase Brice, a third string redshirt freshman quarterback, would have to set the tempo for the Tigers for the remainder of the game.

While the SU offense shined in the first two quarters, it was Clemson’s turn to take over, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers entered with a top-20 scoring defense – allowing just 15 points per game – and SU mustered just seven second half points.

At first, Brice looked the part of a third-string player. Clemson was forced to punt on the first possession of the second half and the second possession ended with a turnover. SU defensive back Trill Williams intercepted Brice’s pass, but SU could not take advantage of the field position at the Clemson 38 yard line.

After going back and forth between possessions, the Tigers finally managed a field goal, pulling them back to a one-possession game at 16-10.

Dungey then caught the turnover bug as his attempted pass to Devin Butler was intercepted by A.J Terrell. The interception led to a field goal make by Clemson, cutting the SU lead to just three points.

At the end of the third frame, SU again had to punt. But Clemson punt returner Amari Rodgers fumbled the ball, giving Syracuse prime field position at the Clemson 10-yard line leading into the final quarter.

SU vs. Clemson Football
Clemson's Adam Choice tries to break a tackle and burst through the SU defensive line in Clemson's narrow victory over Syracuse on Saturday.

Syracuse took advantage of the opportunity. Although the Orange appeared destined for another field goal, head coach Dino Babers took a chance on a fourth down and it paid off. Dungey ran a one-yard touchdown into the end zone, giving ‘Cuse the momentum and a 10-point lead.

Those were the last points SU would get. Clemson answered quickly with a touchdown run from Etienne to pull within three. Then with less than a minute remaining, Etienne tacked on another rushing score. Etienne finished with 203 rushing yards.

SU really got nothing going on the ground, finishing with just 61 rushing yards. Dungey ran for two scores and threw for 250 yards. SU’s top receiver was Jamal Custis, who recorded 73 receiving yards.

Brice finished with 83 passing yards for Clemson in replacement of Lawrence. Lawrence had 93 yards before leaving.

Syracuse looks to get back in the win column next weekend, hitting the road again to play the Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday at Heinz Field. Kickoff is at 12:20.