Reporting from South Carolina – Remember when Clemson’s offense was going to bail out the fresh Tiger defense? Remember when Clemson’s offense and their star quarterback inexplicably struggled in September? Pepperidge Farms remembers – both in 2016 and 2019.
Clemson appeared to have conquered the old haunt of the Carrier Dome early in the first quarter. First, Trevor Lawrence sliced the Orange defense apart and capped it off with a 16-yard strike down the seam to ‘Bionic Man’ Amari Rodgers. Lawrence followed it up next drive with an ice-cold one yard run in the end zone where he beat the end around the edge and stared him down as he jogged in for six points.
Then the spooky magic of the Carrier Dome entered the equation. Clemson’s defense dominated Syracuse’s shuffled and befuddled offensive line, but Clemson’s offense failed to capitalize in an equally frustrating manner – scoring one field goal on their next six drives.
The long awaited knockout punch seemed as if it was never going to come as Clemson’s exciting 14-0 lead aged into a worrisome 17-6 advantage at halftime.
The beginning of the second half felt worse – Trevor Lawrence threw a telegraphed interception (intended for Tee) that was returned to the nine-yard line. Venables’ defense bailed out the offense as Goodrich intercepted a pressured DeVito on the next play.
Clemson’s one impressive player on offense was its most unlikely candidate: Amari “Bionic Man” Rodgers, in his second game back from his ACL tear five months ago (what a miraculous recovery).
He took a short Lawrence pass in the flat 87 yards down the sideline to the house as he stayed in bounds after the catch by less than a millimeter. After a super long review, the Tigers extended their lead to 24-6, but the tricks weren’t over yet.
Lawrence threw yet another telegraphed interception, but the game was sealed when the defender was tackled at the three-yard line. The ‘Air Raid’ Orange lined up in a power-goal line formation that Venables’ defense snuffed out for four consecutive downs in the middle of the third quarter.
Syracuse’s six total points on four trips to the red zone proved to be the decisive factor in the matchup. Venables’ defense simply reloaded and completely shut down the Orange offense in every meaningful way possible.
Clemson’s offense tacked on several late scores to make the final score 41-6, improving to 3-0 (2-0 ACC) on the year. The game harkened back to early 2016 in more ways than one – the Tigers usually struggle early in the season and are still finding their offensive identity.
All wins count the same in the record books, but this game was definitely closer than 41-6. How far the Tigers will go this year depends on when the offense finds its identity, and how good it can truly be.