The Syracuse Orange never trailed during its 27-24 upset of the No. 2 Clemson Tigers on Friday night. And while that meant no comeback was required to pull the unlikely win, SU still needed some key plays to occur for everything to fall in its favor.
Below, we round up the essential plays that help make this game one of the best the Carrier Dome’s ever seen.
Eric Dungey’s 21-yard run on the first play from scrimmage
Syracuse was injury-plagued all night, and it started before the first snap, as the team was called for a false start and faced a 1st and 15 early. But Dungey’s ability to burst through the Clemson defense immediately afterward revealed some early signs of worry for the Tigers. It also put SU quickly near midfield and cranked the tempo up considerably, leading to...
Dontae Strickland’s 23-yard touchdown catch
Facing immense pressure early, Dungey was resorting to screens where possible to avoid the Clemson rush. Strickland caught a 3rd and long pass right near the line of scrimmage and his knee nearly hit the ground. But his recovery and the slight hesitation it caused put the Tigers’ defense right past him, leading to the surprising touchdown scamper. Less than four minutes in, SU was up 7-0.
Ervin Philips’s 66-yard touchdown catch
Following a missed field goal by Clemson, it took Syracuse just two plays to score its second touchdown of the contest. A 14-yard pass from Dungey to Steve Ishmael resulted in a first down. Then the quarterback went right back to it on the next play, identifying blown coverage and a streaking Philips down the middle of the field. Any momentum the Tigers had seized back was dead and the Orange were up 14-7.
Chris Slayton knocks Kelly Bryant out with big hit
Syracuse had been getting more and more pressure on the Tiger quarterback, hitting him on nearly every play (most notably, a big sack by Alton Robinson). Bryant had come in with a questionable ankle, and that only created more issues for him as the first half wore on. It all came to a head as he tried to get outside to avoid a rush, but without his signature speed, was quickly thrown to the turf by Slayton. He’d exit with a concussion and wouldn’t return.
Eric Dungey’s 45-yard first down run
Dungey put to rest any concerns about his potential shin injury by scampering right past the Clemson defense along the sideline, burning several defensive backs before finally getting chased out at the Clemson 35.
Steve Ishmael’s 30-yard touchdown catch
An uncharacteristically slow start to the third quarter had the Orange tied at 17, and you could sense a little bit of a momentum swing. But after Dungey’s run, it was just two more plays before Dungey found Ishmael and once again exploited the senior’s size advantage near the pylon.
Alex Spence’s missed 38-yard field goal
Clemson had a short field and ample opportunity to break a 24-all tie in the third quarter. Syracuse’s defense buckled down after the first few plays, though, putting the Tigers into a long conversion situation. They’d settle for a field goal that wouldn’t hit the mark, squandering the easy chance for points and their first lead.
Cole Murphy’s 30-yard made field goal
The points on this drive gave SU the lead for good, but it was the time management that was critical on the way. Syracuse took six minutes and 16 plays to earn the 27-24 lead, wearing down Clemson’s defense in the process. It left plenty of time on the clock for the Tigers, but not enough to allow for more than one more Tiger drive.
Will Spiers’s incomplete missed pass on a fake punt
After stalling near the Syracuse 40, Clemson could’ve gone for it. They chose to punt -- or so we thought. Spiers was ready to fake immediately and let loose a long deep ball that fell to the turf. It was actually pretty close to the receiver. But the turnover on downs ended Clemson’s final possession.
Dungey’s eight-yard first down run
SU appeared ready to convert a third and short before a false start turned it into third and 8. But Dungey took off on the play, willing himself over the marker despite being stopped a couple yards short. The conversion was all the Orange needed to ice the game.
Which big moments stuck out to you? These are the obvious ones, but plenty more big plays that helped make this upset a reality.