Syracuse stayed close with Clemson through three quarters, but ultimately the Tigers pulled away for a 41-6 win on Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Here are three things we learned from the game.
DEVITO MAKES SAME MISTAKES
Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito handed momentum back to Clemson just one play after the SU defense had seized it.
Down 17-6 with 11 minutes left in the third quarter, cornerback Christopher Frederick had just intercepted Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and returned it to the Tiger 9-yard line.
It was a golden opportunity for the Orange to shake itself from the doldrums. A touchdown would’ve pulled the Orange to within four points. Even settling for a field goal would make it a one-score game.
But on the very next play, DeVito rolled to his right and Clemson was prepared for what was coming. With no receivers open and the smartest option to throw it away, DeVito instead fired into the end zone, and directly into the hands of Clemson cornerback Mario Goodrich, who made an easy interception.
Any chance of Syracuse pulling off the improbable upset evaporated shortly after, with Tigers wide receiver Amari Rodgers taking a screen pass to the house for an 87-yard touchdown, giving Clemson a 24-6 lead.
“Obviously I was disappointed,” Babers said. “I talked to him a little bit on the sideline. It’s just something with young quarterbacks, they’re going to make mistakes. As they make mistakes, they get better and they get better.”
But what was particularly frustrating about the back-breaking interception was that DeVito had made similar blunders in his first two games against Liberty and Maryland. In both games, DeVito had rolled out of the pocket before firing an inexplicable pass that was intercepted.
“When you touch the oven and get burned, you don’t touch the oven again,” Babers said. “I was kind of disappointed that it happened in the same place and same situation.”
OFFENSIVE LINE STRUGGLES
Syracuse has averaged only 15.6 points through three games, and against Clemson, combined for just 15 total rushing yards. Some of the blame has fallen on the offensive line, which has been playing a game of musical chairs with an injury to starting center Sam Heckel.
That has caused left tackle Airon Servais to shift to center, right tackle Carlos Vettorello to shift to left tackle, and graduate transfer Ryan Alexander to be inserted into the starting lineup at right tackle. The shuffling has resulted in a wildly uneven performance, with DeVito absorbing eight sacks.
But Babers was careful not to focus Syracuse’s offensive woes completely on his beleaguered O-line, saying that two of the sacks had nothing to do with the front five.
“I don’t think it’s all on the offensive line,” Babers said. “Everybody has to do their part. It only takes one guy to breakdown offensively for something bad to happen and you want to pin it on one group of individuals when that’s really not the case.”
DEFENSE HAS BETTER SHOWING
One week after getting torched for 63 points by Maryland, Syracuse’s defense showed much more resolve against Clemson.
Aside from Fredericks’ interception, Trill Williams also picked off a pass, giving Syracuse one final chance to make it a more competitive game. With 7:00 to go in the third quarter and SU down 24-6, Lawrence appeared to simply not see the cornerback in coverage and Williams took advantage, returning it to the Clemson 5-yard line.
But Syracuse couldn’t punch it in, turning the ball over on downs, the second time that the Orange couldn’t capitalize on an interception in Clemson territory.
“If we would have been able to generate more offense either from them, special teams or the offense, it would’ve been interesting,” Babers said. “I’m not saying we would’ve won, but it would’ve been interesting.”
Regardless, Syracuse’s defense did its part, holding Clemson to 17 points until midway through the third quarter. The Orange did give up 24 points in the second half, but 14 of those came in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.
“I thought [the defense] played well,” Babers said. “We’re disappointed we couldn’t deliver. But our guys will be back. They’ll be ready to go.”