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Syracuse football: So close, yet so far

An aggressive start wasn’t enough to cage the Tigers in Clemson

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

For about three quarters, I really thought this was the one. The one where the Syracuse Orange completely shatter the narrative about their past failures, untimely penalties and many, many close losses.

I guess some things just aren’t meant to be.

SU went into halftime with a 21-10 lead but then shut down offensively after that, and Clemson rallied for 17 unanswered points in the 4th quarter.

Was it still impressive how the Orange came out and started hot against a National Powerhouse of a program? Absolutely. But in a way, it stings even more that ‘Cuse came up just short again.

At first glance, it seemed like this would be the usual Death Valley experience: SU went for it on 4th down in FG range and were stopped, then Clemson marched down the field and scored. A long day in the South Carolina sun was looming.

But then the aggressiveness kicked in. Garrett Shrader connected with Sean Tucker and tied it up. The Mob balled out. And all of a sudden, D.J. Uiagalelei looked like he was back in 2021 form. He turned the ball over three times, including this strip-six started by Duce Chestnut and Marlowe Wax and finished by Ja’Had Carter:

“He’s a playmaker,” Head Coach Dino Babers said postgame. “He had an outstanding freshman year, kinda had the sophomore slump a little bit, but I’m glad to see him coming back.”

The Orange eventually forced the Tigers to make a QB change, opting for true freshman Cade Klubnik. The new look sparked Clemson and started to wear down a Syracuse defense that had been feasting on underthrown balls beforehand.

They were stuck on the field more than they should have been because of the offensive struggles. For some maddening reason, Tucker only had 5 carries the whole afternoon - while averaging nearly 11 yards per touch. Babers insisted that Tucker’s limited use was part of the gameplan.

“A lot of that was reads,” Babers said. “So they took the ball out of Sean’s hands and put it in Shrader’s hands.”

The second-half collapse was caused by several instances where ‘Cuse players lacked any discipline. Penalties, the problem that’s been talked about all year but never properly addressed because of the winning streak, is what cost the Orange a defining win today.

At least some of this is on coaching. You cannot allow your players’ emotions to get the best of them in the situations that they did. Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff had an inexcusable late hit on Klubnik that gave the Tigers life on what would’ve been a stalled drive. I’m not going to throw him under the bus too much, being that he is a true freshman forced into the game because of injuries, but that was probably the turning point.

That’s not even getting into how Dino let 25 seconds bleed from the clock before using his final timeout. That’s something he should know if he’s going to do before the play happens.

The other elephant in the room has to be the lack of a second WR option. Oronde Gadsden once again accounted for over half (86 of 167) of SU’s receiving yards. On the final Syracuse play, the Clemson defense was so locked in on Gadsden that they left Courtney Jackson wide open in the corner of the endzone.

Shrader never even saw him, throwing into triple coverage to seal the deal. Watch his body language and you’ll notice how he never looked away from #19.

“It’s a horrible feeling,” Mikel Jones said on the loss. “We put a lot of work in, and we just fell short here again.”


  • Ja’Had Carter - 9 tackles, 1 INT, 90-yard fumble recovery TD
  • Marlowe Wax - 7 tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
  • Garrett Shrader - 18/26, 167 passing yards, 1 TD, I INT; 71 rushing yards, 1 TD