It was a valiant effort by the Syracuse defense, but they just ran out of steam when the cumulative effects of #21 Clemson’s no-huddle offense enabled the Tigers to post three consecutive scores in the second half and escape with a 16-6 win Saturday night at Clemson. The Tigers (6-2, 5-1 ACC), who opted to go no-huddle after four fruitless drives to open the game, ran off 51 plays after halftime and held the ball for over 21 minutes in the second half. As a result, the hosts outscored the Orange (3-5, 1-3) 13-0 after intermission.
The SU defense forced four turnovers in the game, but their offensive counterparts were overmatched by Clemson, whose defense ranks among the best in the nation in several categories. The Tigers came into the game leading the nation in both tackles for loss and third-down conversion defense. The game provided evidence for those rankings, as the Orange were stopped for a loss on a dozen plays and converted only 3-of-16 third downs. Syracuse also turned the ball over three times in the game, essentially neutralizing the effects of their play-making defense.
The two teams mirrored each other’s offensive efforts on their first two possessions, mustering a three-and-out followed by a drive with a first down, then a punt. One play after SU’s third possession ended in a punt, the Orange defense made their first impact play of the night when Marquez Hodge delivered a hit on the Clemson quarterback, forcing his throw to be short, hang up in the air, and settle into the arms of cornerback Brandon Reddish at the Syracuse 14.
The Orange offense clicked on the next drive, getting a 23-yard pass from A.J. Long to Ashton Broyld on a perfect post route, then converting a 4th-and-1 when Ervin Phillips turned the corner around a cluster of defenders on a jet sweep and picked up seven yards. Three plays later, the drive sputtered out, but Cole Murphy tucked a 43-yard field goal inside the left upright for a 3-0 Syracuse lead with 40 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Tigers responded with their best offensive poossession to that point, converting a pair of third downs to get into Orange territory. Ron Thompson short-circuited that drive when he zipped through the middle of the Clemson line on 2nd-and-nine and dropped their quarterback for a sack, leading to another punt.
Pinned by an SU punt at their own 11, Clemson shifted their offense into no-huddle mode. Syracuse felt the effects immediately, as the Tigers marched downfield, forcing the Orange to call timeout just to catch their breath after eight straight gains got Clemson a first down at the SU 26. The break helped, as Cameron Lynch knifed through the Tiger line on 3rd-and-1 to drop the ballcarrier for a three-yard loss and force Clemson to take a 38-yard field goal to knot the game at 3-3 with under five minutes left in the half.
On the ensuing SU drive, A.J. Long’s inexperience came to the fore, as he muffed a pair of clean shotgun snaps. On the first, Long was alert enough to pick up the ball and scamper for eight yards to make a first down out of the busted play. The second, however, was much different, as he rushed a throw that intercepted at the Orange 33.
Three plays later, the hosts were at the Orange ten-yard-line and tried to get fancy. Following a pre-snap shift where three players reset on the left side of the line, Clemson blocked left but ran a pitch to right. The pitch was high, though, and the Tiger running back could not secure it. Robert Welsh pounced on the ball for SU, blunting the Clemson drive with just over two minutes on the clock.
After Prince-Tyson Gulley darted for 16 yards on the first play of the drive, the Tiger defense stiffened and they used their three timeouts to force another Orange punt. On Clemson’s first play from their own 24, their quarterback scrambled, then, when fighting for extra yards, Dyshawn Davis ripped the ball out of his arms and fell to the ground, giving Syracuse possession at the Tigers’ 25 with 1:12 left in the half.
The Orange offense could not do anything and a sack on third down pushed them back. SU used their final timeout of the half with three seconds left to try a 50-yard field goal. Murphy coolly blasted the ball through the uprights, giving Syracuse a 6-3 halftime lead.
The SU defense forced a three-and-out, but two plays after the punt, Gulley had the ball ripped away while going to the ground and Clemson recovered at the Orange 31. On the following third down, though, Clemson’s center zipped the shotgun snap over the quarterback’s head, which lost 16 yards and took the Tigers out of field goal range.
Following another Orange three-and-out, the SU defense gifted the hosts a first down with an offside penalty. One play later, Eric Crume hit the quarterback’s arm, forcing another errant pass. This one dropped into the arms of Darius Kelly, who returned the ball 20 yards to the Clemson 42.
The Orange gifted the ball right back when Long threw an interception on their first offensive play. Clemson used a 21-yard run to jumpstart their ensuing drive, but when faced with 4th-and-goal from the SU one, they took the chip shot field goal that made it a 6-6 game with 6:36 left in the third.
The next Syracuse drive resulted in a loss of three yards and a quick punt, giving the Tigers the ball at the SU 46. After picking up a first down, Clemson again tried a field goal, this one from 41 yards, and it gave the hosts their first lead of the night at 9-6 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
The Orange mustered a first down on their next possession, but were forced to punt again. Clemson responded with their best drive of the contest, moving 73 yards in seven plays and finally breaking through on a 17-yard touchdown pass. The conversion put them on top, 16-6, just a couple plays into the fourth quarter.
After each team punted, the Orange got into field goal range when Gulley ripped off a 19-yard run. Three plays later, Murphy was lined up a couple steps inside the left hash for a 42-yard field goal that would make it a one possession game. Murphy pushed the kick a little too far to the right and Clemson took over with 8:17 remaining.
The Tigers shifted into clock-killing mode and stacked up four first downs on their possession, eventually kneeling on the ball on their last snap inside the Orange ten to drain the clock.
Prince-Tyson Gulley had a strong effort for the Orange, collecting 80 yards on 18 carries. A.J. Long went through the roughest game of his young career, finishing with 12 completions in 27 passes for only 82 yards with a pair of picks. Ashton Broyld returned from injury to tie Jarrod West with a team-best four receptions, Broyld gaining 49 yards to pace SU.
Cameron Lynch posted ten tackles in the game, including a pair of tackles for loss. Fellow outside linebacker Dyshawn Davis had nine stops, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Robert Welsh also had a fumble recovery. Darius Kelly and Brandon Reddish each had an interception in the game and Ron Thompson posted the unit’s lone sack of the game.
With their five-game death march complete and still needing three victories in their final four games to secure bowl eligibility, Syracuse returns home on Saturday to face North Carolina State. The Wolfpack (4-4, 0-4) have seemingly had two separate seasons, first rolling up four non-conference wins, then getting dealt four straight losses in conference play, including some to foes that have done the same to the Orange during the difficult stretch on their schedule – Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville.
N.C. State enters the game coming off a bye week while the matchup marks the eighth consecutive week SU has played a game. Kickoff is set for 3:00pm Eastern and the game will be televised regionally, so please check your local listings.