Let’s remember: many of us thought that Syracuse would lose this game before the season started. I know that doesn’t make the game sting any less, but it’s all a matter of perspective.
The Syracuse Orange had opportunities to win against the Clemson Tigers on Saturday, but numerous mistakes derailed any chance of a Syracuse upset. Penalties and turnovers essentially killed off the Orange before they could ever get going against the Tigers. Syracuse’s undefeated run to start the season is over, and it doesn’t get any easier with ranked games against UNC and Florida State on the horizon.
Here’s our grades from Syracuse’s first loss of the season:
Garrett Shrader needed to be nearly perfect for Syracuse to have a fighting chance against Clemson. Unfortunately, the quarterback suffered through his first bad performance of the season. It’s unclear if the big hit he endured at the beginning of the game affected his performance, but Shrader was off throughout the contest. His sideline accuracy left a lot to be desired and he seemed a touch slow escaping from the pressure. Essentially three of Syracuse’s turnovers came directly from Shrader, which gave Clemson all the momentum it needed to seize control of the game from the start. Shrader couldn’t use his legs to support the passing game, which in total led to a disappointing performance from a great season so far.
Running Backs: B+
I know it’s tough for running backs to be impressive while averaging 3.7 yards per carry, but it felt like LeQuint Allen had one of his better games on the season. He showcase his explosiveness once he got out in space, and that was evident in the passing game. His six receptions were tied for the most since the Pinstripe Bowl and it was tough for Clemson defenders to stop him at initial contact. Allen is probably Syracuse’s most consistent playmaking threat right now and any fears of early-season rust due to his eventful offseason should be alleviated by now.
Wide Receivers: C-
Many of the incompletions were not the fault of the wideouts, as Shrader’s passes routinely drew them out of bounds. However, dropped balls continue to be a haunting problem. Plus, Clemson’s wide receivers showcased how they could help out their quarterback in adverse situations. The Tigers continuously had wide receivers break off from their initial route and improvise to make themselves an option for Cade Klubnik when he had to escape the pocket. Usually that meant coming back to give Klubnik a short throw, but that type of improvisation is something we’ve rarely seen from Syracuse’s wideouts. Add on that no one has established themselves as a reliable option over the middle of the field and it wasn’t the best day for the wide receivers.
Offensive Line: C-
Despite only 3.7 yards per carry, the run blocking from the offensive line actually felt okay. It felt like there was more room to run than what we’ve seen from the big guys previously this season. However, the pass protection was not great. Even a returning Kalan Ellis couldn’t keep Shrader clean. Granted, the Orange were facing the most talented defensive front that they’ve seen up to this point of the season, and probably for the rest of the season. However, the protection couldn’t keep up with the speed and athleticism to keep Shrader off the ground.
Defensive Line: A
Clemson’s offensive line isn’t the same quality as year’s past, but that didn’t stop the defensive line from having it’s best game of the season. Members from the front three combined for 5.5 tackles for loss, including a sack from Caleb Okechukwu. The line consistently forced Klubnik out of the pocket and made him uncomfortable throughout the entire game. This should be a game where the big guys up front should gain a lot of confidence to take through the season.
When the linebackers didn’t have to think, they performed exceptionally. Helping bring the pressure continued to flush Klubnik and limiting Will Shipley’s impact on the game gave Syracuse a chance. However, the linebackers had trouble identifying the right decision when Klubnik escaped the pocket. They couldn’t decide whether to rush him or stay in coverage, which allowed Clemson to gain significant yards. That indecision kept multiple Tiger drives alive.
Defensive Backs: D
If the safeties are going to continue playing soft zone coverage, they need to be quicker at identifying open receivers in their area and close them down quickly. Too many times this game and season have the safeties given wideouts free yards because of space. Unfortunately, the cornerbacks couldn’t keep up their great start to the season. Klubnik kept lofting balls over the top during one-on-one coverage, which forced pass interference calls against Isaiah Johnson and Jeramiah Wilson. We saw transfers Myles Farmer, Jaeden Gould and Jayden Bellamy get some significant playing time in the fourth quarter, so don’t be surprised if some starting spots are in jeopardy during the coming weeks.
Special Teams: B
Jack Stonehouse had a great game punting. Hopefully he can translate his success inside the Dome and avoid a repeat of his first road game as the Orange travels for the next three contests. Brady Denaburg appeared to be whiskers away from an impressive 57-yard field goal, which is no mean feat. The biggest worry continues to be the return game, as D’Marcus Adams still takes big and unnecessary risks, and without Trebor Pena, it appears that Syracuse doesn’t have another option to return punts.
Now it’s your turn. What are your grades for Syracuse’s game against Clemson? Sound off in the comments below.