CLEMSON, S.C. — Following Clemson’s win over Florida State last week, Dabo Swinney called out his defense for not finishing the job. With the Tigers up 20 points, the Seminoles scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make things a little more interesting than the Clemson coach would have liked.
It was obvious the Clemson defense heard what their head coach said and took it to heart because in the fifth-ranked Tigers’ 27-21 win over No. 14 Syracuse on Saturday, they literally finished the job.
R.J. Mickens intercepted Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader at Clemson’s 14-yard line with 15 seconds to play to secure the win and the Tigers’ 38th consecutive home victory – a new ACC record.
“Honestly, thanks to the coaches, Coach Swinney pushing the defense and Coach Wes (Goodwin) responding to not such a great finish last week,” Mickens said. “Our practice throughout this week was probably one of our most intense weeks of practice and it translated to the game.”
Things did not start out well for the Tigers. Syracuse’s offense had two first half scoring drives, including a 68-yard drive just before halftime to give the Orange a 21-7 lead.
Syracuse (6-1, 3-1 ACC) totaled 172 yards in the opening half, had 11 first downs and was 2-for-4 on third down.
Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry was noticeably upset talking to his teammates when he came back to the sideline following Shrader’s seven-yard run with 1:53 to go before halftime.
“I heard that we had to get on top of our stuff, and everyone has to have accountability within themselves and stop pointing their finger at the coach or at your teammate or whatever,” Mickens said. “Just look in the mirror and just be your best and not worry about anyone else and do your job. You do that, then everything else will fall into place.”
And it did.
Clemson (8-0, 6-0 ACC) held the Orange to 119 total yards in the second half. Syracuse was just 1-for-7 on third down in the last 30 minutes and had just six first downs. The Tigers also recorded four of their five sacks in the third and fourth quarters, and more importantly they did not allow any points.
Syracuse’s seven-second half possessions resulted in six punts and Mickens’ interception. Prior to the interception, the Orange (6-1, 3-1 ACC) had no second-half drive longer than 24 yards.
The play of the defense allowed Clemson to stay in the game until the offense finally got back in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
At halftime, Goodwin challenged the defense to step up and shut Syracuse down.
“They responded to the challenge,” Clemson’s defensive coordinator said. “For whatever reason, I felt like we came out a little flat (in the first half). We needed to tighten our coverages down and kind of just get in the flow of the game a little bit.
“Guys gained more confidence as we got into the game and realized that they matchup with them. Just tighten down on our alignments, play tighter man coverage and our guys responded to the challenge. We stayed within our game plan and adjusted within our game plan. Our guys responded and obviously rose to the occasion.”