Mistakes sink SU football in homecoming loss

Mistakes sink SU in homecoming loss

Clemson delivers the Orange’s first defeat of the season after a four-win start.

Syracuse Quarterback Garrett Schrader is squooshed as he fumbles the ball at the football game against Clemson in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.
Clemson’s defense sacks Syracuse quarterback Garrett Schrader to force a fumble.

Syracuse football’s undefeated start to the season came to an end on Saturday afternoon as the Orange fell to Clemson 31-14 at the JMA Wireless Dome.

The Orange spotted the Tigers 14 early points from two costly fumbles and could not recover. SU finished the day with three turnovers, and the Tigers turned each of them into a touchdown.

The loss was frustrating for SU players and coaches because there was not a noticeable talent gap between the teams as in years past. Instead, self-inflicted mistakes gave the Tigers more than enough breathing room.

Syracuse’s LeQuint Allen tries to make his way through a host of Clemson defensemen at the football game against Clemson in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.
Running back LeQuint Allen tries to make his way through Clemson’s defensive line.

“I thought that some of the younger guys got nervous,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “You don’t expect that to happen; you expect them to be able to overcome it. They’ll do better next time.”

Playing catch-up all game, the Orange couldn’t take advantage of a run game that was having surprising early success against the Tigers front. Instead, redshirt senior quarterback Garrett Shrader repeatedly tried and failed to take advantage of man coverage on the outside.

In the second half, SU’s offensive line began to break down in pass protection, especially on obvious passing downs. Shrader began to take a beating as the Tigers collected five sacks on the afternoon.

Theoplis Stewart II
Syracuse fans look on in disgust as Clemson Running Back Phil Mafah runs into the endzone with the football for a touchdown.

Shrader finished the game 15-for-29 passing with 181 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Clemson also limited his ability to make plays on the ground, as Shrader could only compile 53 yards on 15 rushes.

“(The defense) gave us every opportunity,” Shrader said. “You can’t have three turnovers, and we gotta go out and make plays. If you turn the ball over how I did, I give us no chance to even compete.”

In addition to the early turnovers, penalties were an issue, as the Orange racked up nine penalties for 92 yards.

In contrast to last year’s game at Clemson, Syracuse’s defense held up well against Clemson’s rushing attack. The Orange held the Tigers to 126 yards on 35 carries.

However, the defense didn’t fare quite as well against Tigers quarterback Cade Klubnik. The sophomore was poised and accurate, and consistently moved the chains on big third-down plays.

While Klubnik fired two touchdown passes, his most important play came in the fourth with the Tigers up 24-14 with just under 12 minutes left. The Dome crowd was back into it after an Orange touchdown, and the defense had an opportunity on a third-and-12 to immediately get off the field.

Instead, Klubnik found wide receiver Tyler Brown for 19 huge yards, which allowed the Tigers to chew off more than three minutes of clock before ultimately punting.

Klubnik finished the day 23-of-37 for 263 yards. Brown was Clemson’s leading receiver, hauling in 8 balls for 151 yards.

Syracuse’s Dan Villari holds his arm out to get the ball into teh end zone for a touch down at the football across the at the football game against Clemson in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.
SU tight end Dan Villari stretches the ball to score a touchdown Saturday against Clemson.

Up 14-0 just over nine minutes in, the Tigers were in control most of the way, taking a 24-7 lead into the final quarter. Syracuse got one last reprieve, recovering a Clemson fumble and eventually turning it into points when Shrader connected with sophomore running back LeQuint Allen on a wheel route from six yards away to make it 24-14.

While the Orange got the ball back a few minutes later, their flicker of hope was extinguished when Shrader was picked off by Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, Jr.

On the next play, Tigers running back Phil Mafah finished off the knockout combination, taking a handoff 32 yards to the endzone to make it 31-14 and put the dagger into Orange hearts.

Costly turnovers were the main factor in Clemson’s two early season losses to Duke and Florida State, but the Tigers flipped the script on the Orange early on.

SUvsClemsonFootball SUvsClemsonFootball Syracuse football head coach Dino Babers walks the sidelines of the JMA Wireless Dome during the Clemson game on Sept. 30, 2023. Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text

Photos by Theopolis Stewart II

“This team will be extremely good,” Babers said. “Unfortunately, I want them to be good now.”

Among the bright spots for SU is sophomore tight end Dan Villari. The converted former quarterback caught two passes for 65 yards and a touchdown and was also used as a gadget player, taking direct snaps and attempting two throws.

LeQuint Allen also delivered as he finished as the team’s leading rusher with 56 yards on 14 carries while adding 37 yards and a touchdown on 6 receptions.

The Orange will hit the road next week for a clash with the No. 15 North Carolina Tar Heels. It will mark the beginning of a challenging three-game road trip for SU.