It was a rough start for the Syracuse Orange. Just two minutes in, they found themselves down 14-0 to the top-ranked Clemson Tigers, and their backs were to the wall. We've been here before, and it hasn't gone well.
Except this time, SU fought back -- pretty hard, in fact. Ultimately, it was still a loss for Scott Shafer's team (the seventh straight), and they still lost by 10. But you had to commend what we saw from the Orange as they hung with Clemson for the entirety of this game, pushing them several times to within a touchdown in the second half. In many ways, this was the LSU loss all over again. Always close, but never close enough to grab the lead.
For a good portion of this game, the Orange offense was actually pretty interesting. Not always productive, but interesting. Tim Lester seems to understand what Zack Mahoney can and can't do at quarterback and played to his strengths pretty well. The same could be said for much of the LSU game too. Mahoney's not a great passer, but can occasionally put it on the mark, and did in the second half to the tune of 43 second half yards (27 in the first). A few overthrows would've connected for big gains through the air as SU receivers were surprisingly able to find some real separation against a very good Clemson secondary. With the de-emphasized passing game, however, it meant less involvement for the team's major playmakers like Steve Ishmael (one catch for 28 yards) and Brisly Estime (two catches for 24).
This Syracuse run game, though: What a difference we saw from the last month or so of football. The Orange had 242 rushing yards on just 34 carries (7.1 yards per), with George Morris II leading the way at 80 yards. Mahoney grabbed 76 while largely avoiding big hits, and Jordan Fredericks (who left the game late in the first) had 47 yards of his own.
Syracuse TDs went to Zack Mahoney (two) and Ervin Philips, who scored on an impressive 28-yard scamper in the first quarter. Two field goals accounted for the rest of the points -- and ultimately, settling on at least one instance might've made the difference between a win and a loss today.
We'd be remiss to leave out praise for the Syracuse defense, however. Despite letting up too VERY early touchdowns, SU proceeded to force three turnovers and bend while not breaking enough to keep the Orange in this game. Yes, Clemson did rack up 570 yards on offense. And Deshaun Watson had himself a day (34 completions for 360 yards and two TDs, plus 107 yards on the ground and another score). But they only scored six points in the second half, and the D largely controlled the line of scrimmage for 'Cuse, bringing much more physicality than Clemson seemed prepared for. The second half, particularly, might have been the best half of football this defense has played all season.
There's also that slight issue with the late-game punt, but... not worth getting into it.
Ultimately, it's a loss. And that means this team is 3-7 and will not be going bowling this postseason (for the second straight time). That sucks. But at this time, I'll choose to take a lot of solace in a team that fought hard, looked formidable against the top-ranked team in the country, and provided an entertaining afternoon of football on a day few expected them to. That's encouraging, and for now, it's enough. Plenty more to discuss about what happens next for this team and the program at large. That time is probably not now.