Syracuse players back-up Babers with strong performance against Clemson
Syracuse, NY — Last week, I wrote about there being 'no guarantees' for Dino Babers. The veteran coach is in his fifth season leading the Orange and has a contract that theoretically has him in place through 2023. But, contracts can be bought out, and underwhelming performances aren't always rewarded.
Then, on Wednesday, Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack gave Babers a vote of confidence.
"He's going to be our coach in 2021, and I hope for a long time," Wildhack said in a conversation with syracuse.com.
That vocal support was backed-up on the field by Babers' players on Saturday. The outmatched Syracuse Orange hung tough with No. 1 Clemson, eventually falling 47-21 in a game that was much closer than the final score suggests.
The one-win Orange were within one score of mighty Clemson late in the third quarter. Considering Clemson was favored to win by 46-points at home, this was a result that no one outside the Syracuse locker room saw coming.
"We gave a really good effort," Babers said during his postgame press conference. "I'm really proud of the effort that the guys gave. I really did believe that they were fighting out there, but just too much firepower on the other side."
As fiery as the tandem of QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne can be, Clemson's potent offensive attack was less productive than it usually is.
SCORING OFFENSE: 48
SCORING OFFENSE: 47
TOTAL OFFENSE: 530
TOTAL OFFENSE: 455
PASSING OFFENSE: 348
PASSING OFFENSE: 308
RUSHING OFFENSE: 182
RUSHING OFFENSE: 147
YARDS PER PLAY: 6.8
YARDS PER PLAY: 5.4
The effort put forth by Syracuse's defense and special teams, which contributed a Garrett Williams pick six and a Drew Tuazama blocked-punt respectively, put Clemson in an uncommonly uncomfortable position.
"You look at the score, and you still get beat decently," Babers acknowledged. "You look at the third quarter, and it's a seven-point game; I'm proud of that part of it. You're talking about a defense [Clemson] that had held the last two teams to single-digit first downs for the entire game. We went over that."
First downs weren't the only thing a Rex Culpepper led offense achieved against one of the nation's best defenses.
TOTAL DEFENSE: 254
TOTAL DEFENSE: 325
RUSHING DEFENSE: 96
PASSING DEFENSE: 168
PASSING DEFENSE: 175
Yes, you're reading that right. A Syracuse rushing effort headed by true freshman Sean Tucker outran a group featuring Travis Etienne. Both backs got banged up to be fair, and Etienne did out-gain Tucker head-to-head (Etienne: 86 yards - Tucker: 63 yards). A rolled-ankle prevented Tucker from finishing the game, but not before scoring his third touchdown of the season.
"My hat goes off to that young man, Babers said of Tucker. "I mean at halftime, for us to be in a game like this and for him to have more yards at halftime than Etienne, I'm sitting there going, 'he was really, really running well.' So I really hope that he's able to come back with this. But I'll tell you what, he has had an eye-opening first half of the season."
Beyond the individual performance of Sean Tucker, this was an eye-opening display by the entire Syracuse Orange team on both sides of the ball. Out-gunned and over-matched and nearly every position, no one expected to see this kind of fight from a squad that had just been flattened by independent Liberty. No one except for maybe Clemson, who has seen more close calls with 'Cuse than they'd care to remember.
"I don't know what it is about the Orange versus the orange, but it just seems to be if you don't have anything to do on a Saturday, it might not be a bad game to watch."