There was a lot of hype surrounding Saturday’s game between Syracuse and #3 Clemson. The combination of Homecoming, the Orange’s ACC debut, and a premier opponent led to a giant crowd at the Carrier Dome, but all they saw was a dominant first half performance by the Tigers, who cruised to a 49-14 win.
The visitors blitzed SU with a high-powered attack, scoring five touchdowns by the middle of the second quarter to grab a 35-7 stranglehold on the game. Syracuse (2-3, 0-1 ACC) could not handle the speed of the Clemson (5-0, 3-0) skill position players, as four of those five scoring drives were completed in five or fewer plays.
Clemson won the coin toss and, 38 seconds later, found the end zone on a 60-yard touchdown pass. SU was preoccupied with the Tigers’ star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, leaving Adam Humphries free behind the defense and Tajh Boyd hit him for the easy score. While the Orange could muster only one first down in their next three possessions, the Tigers put together two more touchdown drives of 92 and 75 yards to extend their lead to 21-0 just before the end of the first quarter.
The Syracuse offense broke out on their next drive, needing only two plays to cover 83 yards. Jerome Smith did all the work, carrying the ball for 17 and 66 yards on consecutive plays for the score. Ryan Norton’s extra point made it 21-7 nine seconds into the second quarter. The SU defense forced a punt, but their offensive counterparts could not capitalize when Terrel Hunt threw an interception. Clemson’s offense rounded into form quickly, scoring on their next two opportunities to push the margin to 35-7 just shy of the midpoint of the second quarter. SU still could not do anything with the ball, however, and needed an interception and a sack on fourth down by the defense to hold the gap at 28 points at halftime.
The third quarter was a different story, but a couple missed opportunities still hurt the Orange. The Syracuse offense came out firing, putting together an 82-yard drive in just over two minutes that ended with a Prince-Tyson Gulley 28-yard touchdown scamper for the score. Norton tacked on the conversion to make it a 35-14 deficit. After the defense forced a quick Clemson punt, SU traded interceptions with the visitors. When Ritchy Desir’s spectacular play got the ball back for the Orange, the offense drove into field goal range, but Norton could not connect on a 42-yard try. The Syracuse defense again stopped Clemson and again the offense drove into scoring position, but a fourth down pass by Hunt fell to the ground, ending the drive at the Tigers’ 13.
Two plays later, Clemson effectively ended the game as Boyd hit Watkins on a deep pass that turned into a 91-yard touchdown. The extra point made it 42-14 with under a minute left in the third quarter. The squads traded punts until Clemson tacked on the final score of the game with under four minutes to go. The Orange put together one more threatening drive led by Drew Allen, but his desperation fourth down pass from the two-yard line was tipped and intercepted in the end zone.
While the Orange were ripped up by Clemson, who amassed 624 yards, but they may have found their running game. The team rolled up 323 yards on the ground, led by Jerome Smith’s 125 yards on 18 carries, including a score. Devante McFarlane added a big play element to the attack, rolling up 95 yards in just three carries, including a 56-yard dash on SU’s final drive and a 38-yard run on a fake punt to sustain a drive in the third. The passing game, however, was very ineffective. Terrel Hunt, who had starred in the Orange’s last two games, both easy wins, could connect on a mere 8-of-24 passes for 52 yards and a trio of interceptions.
Marquis Spruill turned in a strong effort on defense, posting a team-high nine tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. Jay Bromley had a pair of sacks and Dyshawn Davis and Durell Eskridge split another for the Orange. Ritchy Desir and Julian Whigham each had an interception, as well.
The Orange travel to North Carolina State next Saturday for their first ACC road game. The Wolfpack (3-2, 0-2) have lost two of their last three games, including yesterday’s 28-13 decision to Wake Forest. The game will start at 3:30pm and be televised by the ACC regional sports network.