Not really sure where to start here, but this one is tough to take. And will be for a while. The Syracuse Orange (4-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) couldn’t stay afloat in the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) in a 27-23 loss. Clemson trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter, but redshirt freshman Chase Brice made a few key throws, sophomore Travis Etienne was nearly unstoppable, while Syracuse’s senior quarterback Eric Dungey just didn’t have enough left in the tank by the end.
Here’s what we learned.
The run defense struggled but the pass rush was incredible
Clemson’s best offense, even when Lawrence was slinging passes, was the run game. Etienne continually gashed Syracuse, getting to the defense’s second line on a regular basis. He evaded arm-tackles time and time again en route to 203 yards on 27 carries. He also added a 25-yard scamper that brought the Tigers back within three in the fourth quarter.
Yet, the defensive line was dominating in rushing the passer. Junior Kendall Coleman sacked the quarterback twice, junior Evan Foster had one, and senior Chris Slayton added QB take-down.
The Clemson scoring drive that started with under nine minutes is a depiction of the defensive dichotomy. On the very first play, Etienne broke about three tackles on a 17 yard outside carry. Yet, a few plays later, Coleman beat the outside tackle and wrapper up Chase Brice, swinging him around until he fell down for a nine-yard loss, ending a promising Clemson drive.
Against an experienced and athletic offensive line, this is both encouraging and discouraging. There’s no question the run defense was gashed, yet, the front was impressive in getting to the passer. Hopefully, Etienne’s performance is just an anomaly against such an elite opponent.
Dino Babers really is a great coach
Throughout this entire game, Syracuse kept on plugging. Every time Clemson struck, there was the Orange, with a counter-punch. When Clemson drove down the field to take a 7-6 lead, Taj Harris made a bobbling, sideline catch to set up senior Eric Dungey for a one-yard touchdown. That single play, along with Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence’s injury, shifted the momentum in the first half and momentarily silenced the home crowd.
When Clemson closed the gap to 16-13 and Syracuse punted, senior Jamal Custis was there to fall on a muffed punt and give the Orange a red-zone opportunity. On the ensuing drive, it looked as though Clemson had a fourth-and-goal snuffed out, until Dungey used a second push behind his offensive line to fall into the end-zone. It was a constant theme: Syracuse never backed down. That should be a credit to Babers. He prepared this team to win, not just to contend. He had them ready, and unafraid of an athletic team and one of college football’s toughest environments.
Eric Dungey put his heart and soul into this game
Dungey is the type of college quarterback that just about every team wishes it had. He will do anything it takes to win. Outside of the interception, he did just about everything necessary to upset the Tigers for the second straight year. He totaled 25 of 40 for 244 yards. He also ran in two scores, the second of which seemed as though it was the finishing blow to Clemson.
This is nothing new.
Dungey’s been doing this for almost four years now (when healthy) and approaches every game the same way: they’re all must-wins. He couldn’t get the job done today, but he’s placed this team in a position to make its first bowl game in the Babers’ era.