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Three takeaways from Syracuse’s 47-21 loss to Clemson

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That wasn’t what we expected.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange hung with the number one team in the nation, the Clemson Tigers, for three quarters before ultimately losing 47-21. Deep in the third, the Orange only had a 6-point deficit, 27-21, and had an option to go ahead for the first time in the game. Unfortunately the Clemson defense forced a Rex Culpepper fumble, which was picked up and returned for a touchdown, turning the momentum and proved to be the dagger in the game. Even with the loss, we learned a few things.

The Orange defense can hang with the best for a time

Coming off the last few weeks, it was a real question, but the defense looked good. Through the first half, and actually until the fourth quarter, the Orange held its own with the formidable Clemson offense. The entire game, the Orange only gave up 147 yards on the ground, against a better rushing attack than they’ve seen the past few weeks. They were gashed for a few big gains over the course, but in general looked better against the Tigers than they had the week earlier. The looks showed some definite adjustments from Tony White. It also showed some growth by individual players that have been thrust into roles they weren’t used to on the year.

The effort has even forced Clemson to fake a punt to keep a drive moving. Garrett Williams was very solid all day including a few pass breakups on Amari Cooper, and of course the pick-six off of a tipped Cooper pass. Even the defensive front showed improvement, with McKinley Williams and Josh Black playing heads up against a quality offensive line. Overall Clemson just out-muscled and out-talented the Orange in the end, specifically the fourth quarter, to open it up.

Rex Culpepper still has limitations to his game

Playing within Rex’s strengths, the offense opened up a little. At the same time, Culpepper showed some growth, hitting a few of the out routes that have plagued him over the last two weeks. Ultimately he did throw three picks that weren’t the greatest looks, including two when the Orange were driving.

He did open up a few things over the top, including a nice touchdown throw to Nykeim Johnson. Johnson and Hendrix both had their men beat numerous times on the day, whether or not they got the ball. Until his injury, Sean Tucker was running hard. On his touchdown he found a seam and committed quick, making a man miss in the process. He also has developed great instincts on cutbacks for zone reads. Some little quirks and misdirections like the Johnson end-around add another wrinkle to the Syracuse gameplan.

Don’t get me wrong, the Clemson defense was still the better of the units out there today, but when Sterlin Gilbert calls a game to the offense’s strengths and the offense executes, the Orange showed they can hang with the best in the country for most of a game. They can also drop points quick with a quick pick-six like they did early in the fourth to open it up.

Lot of young promise on this team.

It was mentioned above, but holy moley did Garrett Williams have a game. On top of the pick-six, he also had some amazing pass breakups on Amari Rodgers, including one over the top that was an NFL-caliber breakup on an NFL-caliber receiver. He likely played himself into some conversations this week.

Jahad Carter looked solid on the day and has improved repeatedly over the course of the season. The linebacking corps and some of those forced into starting on offense, including Tucker kept living up to some of the quality we’ve seen out of them. We even saw a Jacobian Morgan sighting, though he didn’t get a chance to put the ball in the air.

At the same time, the youth is still young. Rob Hanna bit on a move and was beat for the second Clemson touchdown. While having a decent game, the young mistakes can be costly to the team overall.