Syracuse Orange fans and players are probably still kicking themselves over Saturday’s missed opportunity against the Clemson Tigers. One of the strongest halves of the season was followed up by one of the weakest halves of the season, ending up in a 27-21 loss.
The stark difference in performance makes it tough to grade this game given the drastic change in quality from the team. With that being said, let’s attempt to do that.
Shrader linked up well with Gadsden in the first half, but afterwards, he didn’t do enough to keep drives alive. Whether it was holding onto the ball for too long or receivers not getting open, Shrader seemed to force things in the second half, a bad habit that he’s still struggling to break out of. His legs helped in the first half, but as the field and down positions worsened, he didn’t have the same confidence to scramble away from broken plays. Much like the rest of the team, he had a fine first half, but a subpar second half.
Running Backs: A
You can only do so much with what you’re given. Sean Tucker did just that. At least Dino Babers acknowledged that Tucker can’t have only five carries in a game. Dabo Swinney said they schemed at halftime to stop Tucker, but with how little he touched the ball, we’ll never know if that supposed scheme would’ve worked. A boost from one of Syracuse’s most explosive players could’ve helped establish a bit more offensive momentum in the second half.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Someone really needs to help Oronde Gadsden. At this point it’s his abilities alone that are creating space for him to make plays, not the scheme. A large part of his catches are now coming from him being physically and mentally better than his defenders. With a lack of other consistent downfield threats, Syracuse gets easier and easier to game plan against.
Offensive Line: C
Not to sound like a broken record, but first half: great. Second half: not. That Clemson defensive line is filled with future NFL draft picks and the offensive line dominated them in the first half. They gave Shrader time to go through his reads and scramble efficiently if needed. However, the second half saw the return of the penalties. Because of that, Clemson could focus on pass rushing and Syracuse looked overwhelmed in that regard.
Defensive Line: D+
A couple of nice moments don’t prevent the work that Will Shipley and Phil Mafah did on the ground. They decimated the Orange as expected, but they ultimately decided the game. If Shipley and Mafah didn’t consistently get 4-5 yards on every single rush, Syracuse could’ve forced a lot more throwing situations to take advantage of Clemson’s quarterback struggles.
The linebackers were largely quiet, mainly because they were often the first line of defense against the run. A decent first half was offset by the bruising run of the second half. Because of that, the first sign of fatigue came from them when Shipley and Mafah continued to pound the ball up the middle.
Defensive Backs: A-
By far the group that kept Syracuse in the game. Clemson didn’t have the same receiving talent that it usually has, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Tigers didn’t seem capable of beating the Orange through the air. This is also the group where it seemed like depth issues affected the unit the least, with almost every second-string player showing up to make a key play.
Special Teams: C
The big reason for this is that the tackling was poor from the special teams unit all game long. Silently, this also contributed a lot to Syracuse’s loss as Clemson consistently got extra yardage and better field position because of good kick and punt returns. It made it that much easier for the Tigers to march up the field and pound the Orange into the ground.
Now it’s your turn. What grades would you give? Sound off in the comments below.