The line on the game was over 47 points by the time Syracuse kicked off at number one Clemson. Few gave the Orange a chance to even cover that, let alone legitimately stay competitive with the team many consider the favorite to win the National Championship. Yet that is exactly what the Orange did, though their upset bid came up short as the Tigers won 47-21.
The score looks deceiving as this was a one score game late in the third quarter. Syracuse had back to back possessions with a chance to take the lead in that third quarter, but could not capitalize. On a fourth and inches near midfield, Syracuse elected to punt the ball. They forced a punt on the next possession, but that is where things took a turn for the worse.
Rex Culpepper dropped back, could not find anyone open, was hit from behind by Bryan Breese and the ball popped up. Andrew Booth scooped up the fumble and ran it 21 yards to the house. That put Clemson up 34-21, and took the wind out of Syracuse's sails.
Despite that, it was a very strong showing for Syracuse throughout. After falling behind 17-0, Syracuse would battle back. It started with an Andrew Tuazama blocked punt that turned into a Sean Tucker touchdown run. It was followed with a Garrett Williams pick six to trim the lead to 13 at halftime. The pick six was the first in the career of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Midway through the third quarter, Culpepper hit Nykeim Johnson on an 83 yard bomb to trim the lead to 27-21 before the Booth touchdown put the game away.
The Syracuse defense had a very strong day despite Clemson scoring 47 points. Seven of those points were scored by the defense, and two other touchdowns came on a short field. The defense forced a turnover, deflected eight passes and had four tackles for loss. Garrett Williams was particularly stellar, with the pick six, several deflections, a tackle for loss and led the team with eight tackles.
Travis Etienne had three touchdowns for Clemson, but was held to just 86 yards on the ground. The Tigers averaged just 4.0 yards per carry as a team, a big improvement for the Orange defense from the last three weeks. Syracuse actually ran for more yards than Clemson and eclipsed 150 yards on the game while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. In fact, Syracuse actually averaged more yards per play than Clemson overall.
Offensively, Syracuse took advantage of opportunities. They cashed in on the blocked punt, but Culpepper had a perfect throw on the touchdown pass to Nykeim Johnson. But they could not sustain drives consistently against perhaps the most talented defense in the country. When starting running back Sean Tucker went out with an apparent ankle injury, the offense struggled to run the ball.
Still, they hung in there all game and were much more competitive than anyone anticipated. The effort was strong all game, and Syracuse proved it has some young pieces they can build around. The effort and strong play also showed the team is still playing hard for its head coach.
Culpepper finished the game 10-26 for 175 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a lost fumble. Tucker, despite missing much of the game, ran for 63 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Anthony Queeley led the team with five receptions that went for 58 yards. Syracuse was without its top receiver Taj Harris, who did not travel with the team. Ed Hendrix started in his place and had three catches for 24 yards.
Lawrence finished 27-43 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for Clemson. The Tigers racked up over 450 yards of total offense.
The loss drops Syracuse to 1-5 (1-4) on the season. Syracuse returns home for back to back weeks as they face Wake Forest on Halloween and Boston College the following Saturday before a bye.