While it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, Syracuse having Eric Dungy would have helped the Orangemen score more than an Orange on the Tigers. The game was effectively over when Eric Dungy left on a hit late in the first quarter. Backup Austin Wilson looked lost and didn’t do anything to alleviate their situation.
Clemson adhered to the two main keys of the game: don’t commit turnovers and finish drives in the red zone. Clemson playing a clean game combined with the talent discrepancy created the formula for Clemson’s most complete game of the year.
The subsequent result was a 54-0 drubbing that saw 85 of Clemson’s players see the field, including Seth Ryan playing in the second half at the positon normally held by Scott, McCloud, and Powell.
This puts this into perspective: Syracuse attempted one kickoff all game (the second half kickoff). It was a failed onside kick that went for nine yards. Clemson kicked off the ball ten times.
Syracuse had eight punts and four turnovers on 14 drives. Clemson had 14 drives, seven of which ended in touchdowns, two ended in successful field goals, and only three ended in punts.
All this happened despite the fact that Clemson’s superstar Deshaun Watson was knocked out of the game late in the second quarter when the score was 23-0. What propelled Clemson was that while Austin Wilson couldn’t lead his team down the field, fifth year senior Nick Schuessler marched Clemson down the field with poise, solid decision making, and a very good arm to make all of the throws.
This was the first time in Clemson history that two quarterbacks threw for over 160 yards in a game, and Schuessler was actually the leading passer with 177 yards passing and two scores on seventeen attempts. Watson was not far behind him as he threw sixteen passes for 169 yards and two scores while tacking on 39 rushing yards on seven attempts.
The offensive line played better today and they ran to the outside early and often. The running plays looked like buck sweeps and similar runs from the Gus Malzahn playbook and they played to Clemson’s strengths.
There were 44 rushing attempts and Gallman only had ten of them for 63 yards. Feaster was the next leading rusher and he looked very good except for a negative ten yard loss that Coach Swinney attributed to the coaching staff’s miscommunication with the backup offensive linemen. Nine players carried the ball in this game.
Nine players caught a pass in this game and they were lead by the duo of Deon Cain and Mike Williams. Cain showed off his deep threat ability and strength as he burned Syracuse’s defense on nine targets for five catches, 125 yards, and two scores. Mike Williams complimented this with six catches (nine targets) for 106 yards and a score. Scott was utilized in the screen game as he garnered seven catches on all seven targets for 45 yards and a score.
Freshman Cornell Powell was playing early and often, but he tweaked his hamstring early and was unable to come back in the game. Renfrow and Leggett were relatively quiet as they combined for four catches on 48 yards on four targets.
Sean Mac Lain caught a pass for three yards on Military Appreciation day; which is special because he embodies Clemson’s family mantra and military heritage. He is an ROTC cadet and his father is an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.
His brother Eric was the starting left guard and leader of the 2015 Clemson Tigers, and his cousin Ryan Mac Lain is a freshman. By the time Ryan graduates (if he stays five years), there will be a decade’s worth of Mac Lain’s on the Clemson football roster.
This was a dominant performance from Clemson’s defense as it brought the vaunted Air Raid offense to its knees. Clemson’s defense stymied the high octane Orange offense by holding them to 105 yards rushing (3.8 per rush) and 172 yards passing (4.3 per attempt).
Ben Boulware had seven tackles and one WWE style Suplex tackle that brought cheers out of the crowd. Twenty-six players recorded 79 tackles as the young players got extended time on the field. Tankersley, Carter, and Muse caught three interceptions while Watkins and Lawrence tallied two sacks.
Clemson took a huge steps in silencing the doubters from across the nation and the worrying questions among the fan base amidst the streak of wins that involved too much “luck” and suspension. As you can see in my prediction, even I had doubts that Clemson would put together four complete quarters.
This is a “statement game”. This is Clemson proving people wrong, and it looks like the lights just came on. Believe in the program and in the process and good things will come. Pittsburgh comes to town at 3:30 next week, stay tuned to watch these special Tigers play.