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Clemson 27, Syracuse 23: Orange Can’t Hold on in Death Valley

Give us all the drinks.

Syracuse v Clemson Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

UGH. That hurt.

While Syracuse Orange fans would have taken the result pregame, the way we got here makes this loss hurt way more than it should. Syracuse’s questionable play calling and inability to keep Clemson off the field led to the Orange squandering a fourth quarter lead, and ultimately losing to the Clemson Tigers, 27-23.

Syracuse opened the game aggressively, with its opening drive featuring a balanced attack of runs and quick throws— a methodical march down the field. A drive that might not have happened if the Tigers hadn’t mistakenly called a timeout before a third down that ‘Cuse got stuffed on. After the error by the Tigers, the Orange capitalized for positive yards. A missed third-down led to Andre Szymt hitting a 31-yard field goal—3-0.

A very freshman-looking Trevor Lawrence fumbled a handoff on Clemson’s next drive in its own territory, but the Orange ended up with a disappointing three-and-out. Once again, Szymt nailed a field goal, though hitting from 51 yards was far more impressive.

After two consecutive three and outs by each team, the Orange ended up giving Clemson the ball on the Tigers’ 40. Lawrence found a rhythm, driving Clemson into the red zone. A facemasking penalty by McKinley Williams put Clemson inside the ten, and Travis Etienne scored from the one on third down to put Clemson up 7-6, the first time ‘Cuse had trailed all season.

The second quarter began with Clemson starting in its own redzone. A big run by Etienne put the Tigers in ‘Cuse territory. Clemson couldn’t do much more, however, and Tigers’ kicker Greg Huegel whiffed on a 47-yard attempt, keeping the margin at just one point.

The Orange offense finally woke up with just under nine minutes to go in the second. A dime on third down to Taj Harris went for 51 yards and put ‘Cuse on the Clemson 14. Moe Neal picked up 12 on a screen and two plays later, then Dungey punched it in for the Orange, putting the Good Guys up, 13-7.

Then things got weird.

A couple of solid runs by Etienne made it look like the Tigers would respond. However, Lawrence got driven out of the pocket, and on a third down scramble, he put his head down going for extra yards. Lawrence took a shoulder to the head and hit the ground hard, leaving the game. (Lawrence did not return following the injury.)

After getting the ball back, Dungey unleashed a beautiful deep ball to Jamal Custis for 31 yards, and a couple of other big catches by Custis and Devin Butler put the Orange in the redzone. Clemson defense bent but didn’t break near its own endzone, resulting in Szymt knocking home the 31 yarder for a 16-7 lead that ‘Cuse took into the half.

Clemson got the ball in the second half and without Lawrence, the Tigers ran the ball with some success on the opening drive of the second stanza. However, a big sack led to a punt, which actually pinned Syracuse back inside its own 15.

Another unsuccessful Syracuse drive led to Clemson getting the ball back inside its own twenty. On third down, backup Chase Brice threw a huge pick, giving ‘Cuse the ball inside Clemson territory. Dungey almost returned the favor with an interception of his own, but a dropped pick eventually led to a punt.

Playing with Brice at the help, Clemson went run-heavy, and in doing so, the Tigers finally drove into Syracuse territory. A few ‘Cuse stops on potential splash plays led to a 47-yard field goal, cutting the Orange lead to 16-10. When SU got the ball back, an under thrown ball by Dungey led to a Clemson pick with 3:28 left in the third. The Tigers couldn’t get in the endzone, and were then forced to convert a 37-yard field goal. And just like that, it was 16-13.

Syracuse’s special teams came up huge all game long. Especially so at the end of the third. A muffed punt recovered by Jamal Custis gave the ball to ‘Cuse inside the ten. Dungey then made a huge third-down run, getting dragged down on the one. Naturally, Dino opted to go for it on fourth down. Who else but Dungey? 23-13, Syracuse.

Clemson was finally able to get comfortable on offense, as it marched down the field on a mission. In just 1:50, the Tigers drove 75 yards and Etienne capped off the quick-hitting drive from 26 yards out to make it 23-20.

SU seemed to respond on the ensuing drive, even coming up with a ballsy 4th quarter call. That huge completion was negated by an illegal man downfield.

The Hof would punt the ball into the endzone.

Clemson’s final drive was the most roller coaster of drives.

A fourth down false start was countered by a Brice dime for a first down, followed by the back-up, back-up, back-up QB running for a first down run to the 15. Feaster followed that with a run over what felt like half the defense for a first down. Next play? Touchdown Clemson, 27-23.

The final ‘Cuse drive was a mess, with an exclamation mark sack by Clemson on a free edge rush.

So how do we feel? Annoyed? Angry? Frustrated? Maybe hopeful?

It’s something to lose to a CFB Playoff contender in their stadium and be pissed.