A mere 38 seconds into Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference home opener, Syracuse found itself on the wrong end on a 60-yard touchdown completion from Tahj Boyd to Adam Humphries. The Tigers struck paydirt two more times in the first quarter as they raced out to a 21-point lead effectively ending the game the Orange could get going. And that is why Clemson is a national championship contender.
The 49-14 drubbing certainly wasn’t how Syracuse wanted to make its ACC debut. The Orange had momentum on its side entering the contest after back-to-back blowouts against FCS Wagner and Tulane, albeit inferior competition. Terrel Hunt’s emergence at the quarterback position had ignited a stagnant offense that combined for 106 points in the two wins.
But this was Clemson. The Tigers brought a serious arsenal of talent to upstate New York the likes of which Syracuse had yet to face all year. Despite having a bye week prior to the game, the Orange were overwhelmed from the start. Hunt had a dreadful day through the air completing only 8-of-24 attempts for 52 yards and his first interception on the season, three for the game. None of his eight completions found the hands of a Syracuse wide receiver. Jarrod West, Chris Clark, and Jeremiah Kobena were all negated by the Clemson defensive backs.
Syracuse (2-3, 0-1 ACC) now finds itself in a precarious position as it travels to Raleigh for a contest with the NC State Wolfpack on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. The Pack sits at 0-2 in conference play fresh off a 28-13 road loss to Wake Forest. Both squads desperately need a win. NC State lost a hard-fought 26-14 affair to Clemson to open its conference home slate, so that will be weighing on the mind of Syracuse coach Scott Shafer. The loss to Clemson wasn’t a total disaster for the Orange. Some things actually went right on the day. Here’s a look at the positives:
Release the hounds!!!
Syracuse’s stable of running backs gashed the Clemson defense early and often. Six different ball carriers, including Hunt, combined for 323 yards on 48 attempts. That’s an average of 6.7 yards per carry. Workhorse Jerome Smith led the charge with 125 yards including a 66-yard dash to the end-zone to get Syracuse on the board in the second quarter. Freshman Devante McFarlane just missed the century mark with 95 yards on just three carries. McFarlane had a 56-yard run as part of his haul. Hunt rushed for 57 yards on 13 carries while Prince-Tyson Gulley corralled 44 yards highlighted by a 28-yard TD run for the Orange’s only other score. For SU to escape Raleigh with a road win, the Orange needs to make sure to bring its ground game.
See the ball, get the ball
Despite surrendering 468 passing yards and touchdowns through the air of 17, 40, 42, 60 and 91 yards, Syracuse’s secondary managed to accomplish a task no team had done up to that point. They intercepted Boyd. Twice. Winning the turnover battle is a key element in every game. Saturday’s game against NC State will be no different. Syracuse’s defense will need to force multiple turnovers not only to give its offense short field positions but also to stem any offensive momentum from the Wolfpack and to quiet what is sure to be a hostile, and hungry, crowd.
Get off the field
The Syracuse defense did manage to hold Clemson to only four third-down conversions on 12 opportunities. That positive was negated by Clemson’s ability to score on large plays in a short amount of time. If the Orange’s defense can remain stout on third down against a much less dynamic NC State offense, Hunt and the offense will find themselves with many chances to rediscover their scoring ability.