As a head coach, Dino Babers had never experienced a game quite like the one against Clemson on Saturday.
Babers led a fast-paced, productive offense into Death Valley, and for the first time in his four years as a head coach, his team was shut out.
Second-ranked Clemson’s defense kept Babers’ Syracuse squad off the scoreboard in a 54-0 win, holding the Orange to a season-low 277 yards of offense.
It was the first time Syracuse has been held without points since Oct. 19, 2013 at Georgia Tech.
“To keep them out of the end zone is a testament to our guys and their preparation and great focus,” said Brent Venables, who saw his fifth defensive shutout at Clemson since taking over as defensive coordinator in 2012. “We really played with great passion and attitude. I loved how we attacked them from the get-go, and real proud of our guys.”
Syracuse starting quarterback Eric Dungey, who leads the ACC with 224 completions and 2,631 yards passing, exited the game in the first quarter following a hard hit by Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel. After walking off the field, Dungey didn’t return to action.
The sophomore finished 6-of-9 passing for 48 yards and an interception before being replaced by freshman Austin Wilson, who went 17-of-27 for 116 yards and two picks.
“I think their quarterbacks are really similar,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. “They’re all really athletic guys, have some pretty good arms, so I don’t think their game plan changed that much.”
Babers — who is in his first year as head coach at Syracuse after head coaching stints with Eastern Illinois from 2012-13 and Bowling Green from 2014-15 — features an up-tempo offense that entered the game averaging 86.7 plays per contest.
But in large part due to a 5-of-15 success rate on third downs, Syracuse was limited to 68 plays against Clemson.
Syracuse came into the game averaging 486.8 yards of total offense and 26.6 points per game.
“Just not allowing them to get on track on early downs was the biggest thing,” Venables said of his defense’s performance. “They were off schedule, and we played good on third downs.”
Clemson’s defense that ranks 18th in the country in takeaways forced three Syracuse turnovers, and the Tigers took advantage of them to the tune of 21 points.
Interceptions by Ryan Carter in the first quarter and Cordrea Tankersley in the second quarter led to a touchdown run by Watson and a touchdown pass from backup quarterback Nick Schuessler to Artavis Scott, respectively.
Redshirt safety Tanner Muse put the finishing touches on Clemson’s victory with a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“We want to be in the plus margin because the teams that have been in the national championship have been plus 10 or more,” Muse said, “so that’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Clemson was in command defensively from start to finish.
After allowing a total of 51 points and 846 yards in the past two games against N.C. State and Florida State, Clemson’s defense is glad to again be performing like the one that currently ranks 14th in the nation in yards per game allowed (317) and 12th in points per game allowed (17.6).
“It’s huge,” Boulware said. “Some of those plays at Florida State and against N.C. State are stupid plays and so easily correctable, so to go out there today and dominate in every aspect was a great feeling, very satisfying, and hopefully we can keep that trend going the rest of the year.”