Posted on October 14, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Heading into Friday night’s game against the Syracuse Orange, fans of the Clemson Tigers were not worried. Syracuse was a decent time, but they were not in the same class as the defending national champs. This should have been an easy one for the Tigers.
But then an old saying ended up being true– any team can win on any given day.
For a team like Syracuse to beat Clemson, the Orange were going to need a few things to fall their way. They would need the Clemson defense to have an off-night and Eric Dungey would have to have a heck of a night. It wouldn’t hurt if Clemson were forced to play their backup quarterback as well.
As luck would have it, that is exactly what happened.
Dungey and the Syracuse offense proved they came to play on the opening drive of the game with a nice 10-play, 72-yard drive for a touchdown. Clemson was able to answer quickly on its first drive, but then later in the quarter, Dungey connected with Ervin Phillips on a 66-yard touchdown pass to put the Orange on top, 14-7.
Clemson’s defense was struggling but they were not going to go down without a fight. A 63-yard fumble return by Tanner Muse tied the game up at 14-14 about midway through the second quarter. But then the worst thing that could possibly happen to Clemson happened.
Kelly Bryant was knocked out of the game.
Redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper did his best to fill the void, but there is something to be said for experience. He didn’t have a bad night (10-14 for 88 yards) but he was unable to provide the offense with the spark it needed. Running back Travis Etienne did his best to help out and tied the game up with a 52-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter that tied the game up at 24-24.
But otherwise, it ended up being a very quiet night for the Clemson offense. It came into the game averaging around 230 yards through the air and on the ground. The Clemson offense ended the night with just 317 yards of total offense (113 rushing and 204 passing).
“They came ready to play,” Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said after the game (ESPN). “They came out, they saw blood, they saw they had a definite chance to win the game and we just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had to make a comeback.”
Of course, an off day by Clemson’s defense would not have mattered if Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey didn’t have a stellar game. The junior quarterback completed 20 of 32 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 61 yards.
An underperforming defense, a leader-less offense, and an over-performing opponent ended up being too much for Clemson. For the first times since Pitt did the impossible and took them down last year, Clemson lost.
The Tigers entered the game 23.5 point favorites but lost by three– 27-24.
“We didn’t really handle anything well,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said (ESPN). “We just didn’t win the matchups, and they just flat-out outcoached us. It’s truly that simple. If I don’t coach better than I did tonight, the rest doesn’t matter.”
Clemson’s hopes of a repeat took a hit, but they are certainly not out of the hunt just yet. They suffered a similar loss last season but still made it into the Final Four. Like last year, they can’t lose another game and will have to win the ACC Championship Game. But if Bryant can return from his concussion, they should be able to do just that.
Clemson will have a week off before playing Georgia Tech on October 28. Syracuse will look to keep the good times rolling against Miami next weekend.