Syracuse's offense was lifeless in Death Valley.
And a star-studded defense backed up the hype with a shutdown performance at home in Memorial Stadium. The Clemson Tigers only allowed two Cole Murphy field goals and blocked another, en route to a 16-6 victory over the Syracuse Orange on Saturday night.
Syracuse played well enough to lead Clemson deep into the third quarter. But the mismatch between a sputtering passing game and a loaded Tigers defense was too costly for the Orange. Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime returned from injuries, but Syracuse's offense couldn't score in the second half. Now, it's lost five of the past six games.
In his second career start, AJ Long went 12-27 for 82 yards, including two interceptions. Syracuse finished the game with 170 yards, its lowest output since 2008. A big reason why was Long's ineffectiveness in third-down situations. As a team, Syracuse went just 3-16 on third down.
Another weakness for Syracuse this season has been its persistent red zone woes. In this loss, however, the Orange (3-5, 1-3 ACC) never even made it that far down the field. The closest Syracuse got was the Clemson 23, after Dyshawn Davis set up the Orange in good field position with a fumble recovery.
Davis and the defense gave Syracuse a chance for the upset by playing one of their best games of the season. They forced four turnovers against a team that hasn't made many miscues all season. In the first quarter, Brandon Reddish caught an easy interception after Marqez Hodge rushed through the middle and pressured Tigers' quarterback Cole Stoudt. The other pick - a third quarter interception by Darius Kelly - came after Eric Crume burst into the pocket. That gave Syracuse the ball in Clemson territory with a 6-3 lead.
Then Long gave it right back on the next play. Clemson's Stephone Anthony stepped in front of a pass and the Tigers took over at midfield.
Even with Long's performance, Syracuse kept the score close and kept Clemson fans on edge for most of the game. After the turnover, the Tigers quickly marched down the field, but were stopped by a Syracuse goal-line stand on 3rd-and-goal. Clemson running back Wayne Gallman stretched the ball out to the one-yard line, where he was met by a group of Orange defenders.
Syracuse held the Tigers out of the end zone on that possession and throughout the entire first three quarters. But, again, that brilliant effort was wasted by an Orange offense that couldn't keep drives alive. With another two short drives, Syracuse started to lose the time-of-possession battle.
Even worse, they started losing energy.
Clemson kicked another field goal on its next possession. A 41-yard kick from Ammon Lakip put the Tigers up 9-6, its first lead of the game. Then came the backbreaker - a touchdown strike from Stoudt to Stanton Seckinger to make it 16-6.
The packed Clemson crowd finally erupted, sensing Syracuse's chances of pulling the upset had fallen from slim to none.