A lot of plays that occurred near the end of Clemson’s 54-0 blowout victory over Syracuse on Saturday won’t be remembered by most, with the game well in hand for the Tigers.
However, that can’t be said for a late play made by redshirt freshman safety Tanner Muse.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Muse recorded his first career interception and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown to provide the final margin and put the finishing touches on arguably Clemson’s best overall performance of the season.
It was the first pick-six by a Clemson freshman since Wayne Simmons had one at Florida State in 1989.
“It was an incredible feeling, especially when I see all my teammates running as fast as they can to come celebrate with me,” Muse said after the game. “It’s an unreal experience.”
At about the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Syracuse backup quarterback Austin Wilson dropped back and threw a short pass to one of his receivers over the middle in traffic.
A convergence of several players going for the ball at the same time caused it to pop up in the air, and Muse was there to grab it before going virtually untouched into the end zone.
“The pick-six with Muse was awesome,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He looked like he knew what to do with it when he got it in his hands.”
It wasn’t the only highlight-reel play featuring Muse in the game.
At the end of the first quarter after Clemson had scored to take a 10-point lead, Muse raced down the field in kickoff coverage and delivered a jolting hit to the return man that pinned Syracuse at its own 11-yard line.
“He cut into me, and I was fortunate enough to be there,” Muse said of the play, “and I ate a little bit.”
Overall, Muse received an extended opportunity to play in the second half thanks to the score of the game.
While it may have just been so-called “garbage time”, it was anything but to Muse, who knows those moments matter in the larger scheme of things.
Clemson’s starting safety spot will be vacated with the graduation of Jadar Johnson after this season, and Muse is aware that Saturday’s game was a chance for him to make an impression on the coaching staff.
“I guess game day is more important, but practice in and out, everybody’s working as hard as they can because they know Jadar is leaving next year,” said Muse, who finished with three tackles on defense in addition to his interception. “So, really every day is more of an audition, but today was like a showcase day.”
Muse wasn’t out there pressing to make big plays. He simply focused on the little things, and the big plays came.
“I just know I have to be detailed,” Muse said. “Coach (Brent) Venables, he’s going to look back at the film, and the interception is not really going to be on his watch list. He’s going to watch every play I was in, how I was watching what I needed to watch, my keys and everything like that. So, just being on my Ps and Qs is the main thing.”
The product of South Point High School in Belmont, N.C., arrived at Clemson with plenty of talent. But like many freshmen, it has taken time for Muse to develop in the mental aspect of the game.
Heading into the stretch run of his freshman season, Muse feels good about the strides he has made.
“I think I’ve come along really well. I like where I am now because when I came in, I wasn’t there mentally,” Muse said. “I know that, but I’ve been working every day because I knew how far off I was off the field at the time. I just wanted it every day, and it’s finally here.”