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Instant Replay: Clemson 54, Syracuse 0

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No. 2 Clemson cruised past Syracuse 54-0 on Saturday in Death Valley. The Tigers improved to 9-0 (6-0 ACC), while the Orange fell to 4-5 (2-3). Here is a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:

What happened?

Clemson dominated Syracuse offensively and defensively. Clemson scored on eight of its 13 possessions, with six of those being touchdowns. Deshaun Watson was on point, connecting on 13-of-16 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in less than a half of play. Watson also added a touchdown on the ground. Nick Schuessler then came on and completed 11-of-17 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, marking the first time in school history that two Clemson quarterbacks threw for at least 160 yards in the same game. Meanwhile, Deon Cain recorded 125 yards receiving and two touchdowns to bring his season total to eight touchdowns. Mike Williams also had over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown, while Wayne Gallman ran for 63 yards and a score on 10 carries. Overall, Clemson’s offense posted 565 yards of total offense.

Defensively, Clemson limited Syracuse to just 277 yards of offense while forcing three turnovers and notching seven tackles for loss. Clemson scored 21 points off the three turnovers, highlighted by Tanner Muse’s 64-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

What went right?

A lot. Watson was sharp and efficient, posting his second-highest quarterback rating of the season at 211.2. Watson has often been off the mark on deep throws this season, but he launched a beautiful 65-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain in the second quarter for Clemson’s longest play of the season. It was one of Watson’s best games of the year, and after he helped Clemson to a big lead, the Tigers were able to play a lot of guys in the blowout victory. Nine different Tigers caught at least one pass while nine different running backs carried the ball at least once. Clemson had 28 first downs, went 8-of-15 on third down and 2-of-2 on fourth down. The Tigers were penalized just three times, didn’t give up a sack and didn’t commit a turnover.

What went wrong?

Not much. However, special teams were the weak link. Greg Huegel missed an extra point and a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter, though he redeemed himself with a 46-yard field goal in the fourth. Also, Clemson’s kickoff coverage unit that has been excellent this season had its struggles, allowing season-long returns of 39 and 68 yards.

Game-changing moment?

With Syracuse trailing by just three points near the five-minute mark of the first quarter, Clemson corner Ryan Carter intercepted a pass from Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey and returned it 17 yards to set up the Tigers’ offense at Syracuse’s 15-yard line. Three plays later, Watson found the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run to give Clemson a double-digit lead at 10-0. The Tigers continued to pile on the points from there, scoring touchdowns on their next three possessions en route to a 30-0 lead at halftime.

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