Five Takeaways from Syracuse's Loss at Clemson
Syracuse football fell 47-21 at number one Clemson on Saturday, in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. Syracuse was within six late in the third quarter with a chance to take the lead. Ultimately, the Tigers pulled away, but there was plenty to like from Syracuse's performance.
1. Run Defense Takes a Step Forward
Syracuse has been absolutely gashed on the ground over the three games leading up to the matchup with Clemson. They were allowing over 325 yards per game and six yards per carry during that stretch. With perhaps the nation's best running back in Travis Etienne toting the ball for the Tigers, many envisioned another such performance. However, the Syracuse run defense took a giant step forward.
Clemson ran for just 147 yards in total, averaging only 4.0 yards per carry. A significant step forward and much more in line with what we saw from the defense the first two weeks. This was extremely encouraging on two fronts.
First, it showed that Syracuse has the players to put forth a better effort on the ground. Second, it shows the defensive coaches are able to make adjustments to sure up a clear vulnerability. Both good signs moving forward.
2. Garrett Williams is a Future Star
How about the day Williams had? He had an interception returned for a touchdown, the first pick six of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence's career. Williams also led the team with eight tackles, had a tackle for loss and two pass breakups. He was stellar in coverage all game.
Williams is a redshirt freshman and had been good all season coming into this one, but this performance was a bit of a breakout for him. Entering the game against Clemson, he led the nation in targets without allowing a touchdown. The future is bright for Williams.
3. The Offense Needs Sean Tucker
Tucker was having another strong performance when his ankle was rolled while being tackled. He left the game and did not return. To that point, Tucker had 63 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. He provided balance to the Orange offense, which allowed Syracuse to move the ball. After the injury, Syracuse's offense largely stalled as his replacement Cooper Lutz managed just 15 yards on 10 carries. Syracuse has to hope Tucker is not out for an extended period.
Syracuse just does not have the firepower right now, whether it is being down three running backs, missing offensive linemen, missing their starting quarterback, or other reasons, they simply cannot afford to be without Tucker. Tucker has been the most consistent threat outside of Taj Harris this season.
4. Syracuse's Secondary Contains Trevor Lawrence
Williams will rightfully receive all of the headlines, but let's not forget about Ifeatu Melifonwu. The 6-3 corner was solid in coverage all game, broke up two passes and was third on the team with six tackles. Melifonwu has also been rock solid all season. The Syracuse secondary, which was much maligned the last few years for giving up too many big plays, did not give up a single play over 30 yards to the Tigers. Their longest pass play was 25 yards.
In fact, Trevor Lawrence's 289 yards passing was his second fewest of the season. His lowest was against The Citadel when he went 8-9 for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Lawrence completed 62.2% of his passes against Syracuse, his lowest completion percentage of the season. This while missing three starters (Andre Cisco, Trill Williams, Eric Coley) and replacing them with true freshmen (Robert Hanna, Ja'Had Carter, Aman Greenwood). The interception was just Lawrence's second of the season, and it turned into the first pick six of his career.
Again, Lawrence went for 289 yards while completing 62% of his passes, threw for two touchdowns with the one pick. That is "containing" Lawrence. So while Syracuse certainly deserves credit, it also shows how ridiculously good that guy is.
5. When Do We See the Freshmen QBs?
Rex Culpepper had his moments against Clemson and deserves to play for the rest of the season as the starting quarterback. His throw to Nykeim Johnson in the third quarter was a beauty. But he also had a few head scratching throws that led to interceptions. Syracuse has two true freshman quarterbacks behind him. One, JaCobian Morgan, got into the game late against Clemson. He did not attempt a single pass, however.
When do we see some more of them so the staff can get a look at how they react to game situations? Could this week against Wake Forest be a prime opportunity? Or do they wait a few more weeks until after the second bye? It will be interesting to monitor.