Dino Babers was not kidding.
The Syracuse football coach, who spent portions of press conferences in the week leading up to his team’s road game against #2 Clemson lauding his opponent, witnessed his charges get whitewashed on Saturday, 54-0. Just about nothing went right on the day for the Orange (4-5, 2-3 ACC), as they were held to a season-low in yards at 277. The Tigers (9-0, 6-0) posted more than double the yards that SU did at 565.
Both teams spent large portions of the game without their respective starting quarterbacks, as both left the game due to injury. First, Syracuse’s Eric Dungey left the game late in the first quarter after being tackled on a run. Clemson lost their signal caller Deshaun Watson late in the second quarter after being driven to the ground by a pair of SU players. The Orange, however, were hindered much more by the loss of Dungey, who entered the game leading the ACC in passing yards per game.
Highlights were few and far between for SU, who only managed to get inside the Clemson 30-yard-line twice, but those drives ended in an interception and a missed field goal, the latter coming when the Orange were already in a 37-point hole in the third quarter.
Even when Syracuse had Dungey taking snaps, there were troubles. Trailing 3-0 near the midpoint of the opening quarter, the Orange opted to go for it on a fourth-and-nine from the Tigers’ 48, but ran a short pass route. Even though the pass was complete, Erv Philips had no chance to gain first down yardage. The next drive lasted one play, as Dungey threw a room service interception deep in the SU end of the field. Clemson scored their first touchdown shortly after and, to make things worse, Dungey was injured on the following possession.
Clemson reached the end zone on each of their first two possessions of the second quarter to stretch their lead to 23-0. Following the second score, Sean Riley put some life into the Orange by returning the kickoff 68 yards to the Clemson 32. That flicker of light was quickly extinguished when Austin Wilson, in relief of Dungey, threw a bad interception a few plays later. The Tigers pushed their lead to 30-0 on the ensuing possession and took that lead into intermission.
Moe Neal opened the second Syracuse possession of the third quarter with a 49-yard run down to the Clemson 30, but the drive came to a halt shortly after at the 14. Even with the Orange in a 37-0 hole, Babers opted for a field goal try on fourth-and-six, possibly in an attempt to get kicker Cole Murphy going again. Murphy, who entered the game having missed five of his last six field goal tries, never got the ball to cross over the right upright, missing it wide.
That lone scoring attempt was the cherry on top for SU.
The lone bright spot on the day for the Syracuse offense was Amba Etta-Tawo, who snagged nine passes for 84 yards. With that performance, Etta-Tawo seized the single season reception and receiving yardage records at Syracuse with 75 receptions for 1,158 yards, passing Alec Lemon (72 receptions) and Marvin Harrison (1,131 yards), respectively.
Three different Orange players posted double digits in tackles for the defense, led by Parris Bennett, who led all players with 16 stops. Zaire Franklin had 14 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and Daivon Ellison had 13 stops in the game.
SU returns to the Carrier Dome next week when they welcome North Carolina State next Saturday in a matchup between two teams desperate for a win to keep their bowl hopes alive. The Wolfpack (4-5, 1-4) have dropped their last four games, including a 24-20 decision to Florida State on Saturday night. During their losing streak, NC State led by ten points late in the third before falling to the Seminoles and missed a short field goal on the final play of regulation before losing in overtime at Clemson.
Kickoff is set for 12:30pm and the game will be televised by the ACC Network and streamed online at ESPN3.com.