Syracuse, N.Y. — A total of 50,248 fans had their eyes locked in on Ernie Davis Legends Field. The Dome, sold out for the first time since 1998, was raucous for the impending battle between the Syracuse Orange and top-ranked Clemson. After last week’s 43-point loss to Maryland, excitement was still palpable in the crowd, even if some fans started the evening with a lack of hope.
“It was amazing,” said SU running back Moe Neal. “The fans were rocking and there was a lot of energy.”
However, despite some early signs of a thrilling third installment of the saga, the Orange never capitalized on opportunities in a 41-6 loss to the Tigers.
After a pair of three-and-outs to start the game, Clemson drew first blood. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed three straight passes and then scampered up the middle to put the Tigers in the red zone. Then, the sophomore floated a pass over the middle to a wide open Amari Rodgers in the end zone to put Clemson up 7-0.
Just a few minutes later, Lawrence led the Tigers back to the red zone thanks in large part to a 49-yard completion on the run to a smothered Tee Higgins. On 3rd and goal from the SU 1, the signal caller fooled the Orange defense on a fake handoff to Lyn-J Dixon and took the ball in himself to pad the Tigers lead to 14-0 in the first quarter.
Following an exchange of field goals in the second quarter, the Orange offense picked up some steam near the end of the half. Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito completed a quick hit pass to Moe Neal, who took it 50 yards from the Orange to the Tigers’ 25-yard line. However, when SU should’ve had a first down due to 12 men on the field on 3rd and goal, DeVito couldn’t get the snap off quickly enough to draw the penalty. The Orange had to settle for three to cut the deficit to 17-6 just before halftime.
“We didn’t execute,” said Neal. “When you don’t execute against the No. 1 team in the country, that’s what happens.”
DeVito echoed his backfield partners’ sentiment.
“We just hurt ourselves with penalties and it’s unacceptable” DeVito said.
Syracuse had an early opportunity in the 3rd quarter after a Christopher Frederick interception. However, on the first ensuing play from the SU 9, Tigers DB Mario Goodrich picked off a DeVito throwaway attempt. Clemson quickly found the end zone again after Amari Rodgers snagged a pass and scampered 87 yards down the right sideline to make it 24-6.
Later in the third, Trill Williams snared a pass intended for Travis Etienne and took it all the way back inside the Tigers five-yard line. But the offense stalled again as four plays was not enough to find pay dirt. After that, the Orange never got another true opportunity to score.
“I think that defensively, we played well and offensively we weren’t able to score points,” SU head coach Dino Babers said. “We left some meat on the bone out there.” Syracuse had four drives with real scoring opportunities, yet only came away with six points. Two of those drives ended in the red zone without points at all.
In a small silver lining for Syracuse, the upcoming schedule gets much easier than what they saw against the Tigers. The next two weeks feature home matchups against Western Michigan and Holy Cross, and despite recent events, ‘Cuse will be favored in both games.
“Our kids will come back and our kids will play,” Babers added. “I’m just disappointed we couldn’t win this one for the community.”
It’s something everyone can agree upon. For as much as last week hurt, a win this week would’ve rendered the Maryland defeat null and void, and put SU in the driver’s seat in the ACC. Now, they’ll start 1-2 overall and 0-1 in league play. Syracuse’s next ACC game isn’t until October 10 at NC State.