By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When you look at the statistics, 323 rushing yards by a Syracuse ground game that was averaging 158 coming is usually not something defensive coordinator Brent Venables wants to see. But when you consider the Clemson defense held the Orange to 14 points and only 74 yards passing, then it is easier to accept.
It’s also easier to accept when his defense twice held true when the offense was bogged down and trying to find a way to make a play. Three times Syracuse had golden opportunities to chip into the Tigers’ lead at the time and all three times the defense stood tall and denied them of those opportunities.
Those three possessions turned out to be the difference in a 49-14 victory in the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
“It was not an easy possession to be in, but it was good to see us respond,” Venables said.
Syracuse (2-3, 0-1 ACC) desperately tried to get back in the game in the third quarter and it seemed as if it might. The Orange first got a 28-yard touchdown run by Prince-Tyson Gulley on its opening possession and then found itself either driving or with the ball deep in Clemson territory on the three straight possessions and failed to score once.
With the Tigers (5-0, 3-0 ACC) leading 35-14, Syracuse began to march down the field and had the ball at its own 42 when defensive end Vic Beasley sacked quarterback Terrel Hunt and then Darius Robinson intercepted a pass at the Clemson 38.
“We are trying to develop an identity,” Robinson said. “We play hard, we prepare hard and we take it one play at a time. At the end of the year, we are hoping to look up and be the defense we need to be.”
The defense made a couple of more plays to keep Syracuse from scoring the next time the Orange got the ball. After picking off Tajh Boyd for a second time on the day, the ‘Cuse moved the ball to the Clemson 15-yard line, but Gulley was first stopped for a three-yard loss by defensive end Vic Beasley and then Beasley sacked Hunt for a 7-yard loss.
Syracuse kicker Ryan Norton missed a 42-yard field goal to the left on the next play and the scored remained 35-14 with 6:11 to play in the third quarter.
“It’s a long game, and Vic is one of those guys you gave to deal with four quarters,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Even though he may not have had the big stats in the first half, he impacts the game with his speed and his ability to chase people down.
“He made some nice tackles for us and is a very smart player for us.”
Syracuse got one more chance to cut into the Clemson lead and make things interesting, but after moving to the Clemson 13 on eight plays, including a fake punt, Hunt’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete and once again, the Orange was denied any points.
“We made some huge plays there,” Venables said. “I hate that they got down there in the first place. We have to get things corrected and not allow that to happen.”
After three straight series in which the defense kept things at bay, Boyd and Sammy Watkins awarded them with a big play that all but ended the game and allowed the defense to finally relax a little when the two connected for a 91-yard touchdown pass that stretched the lead to 28 points with 40 seconds to play in the quarter.
“That was unbelievable,” linebacker Spencer Shuey said. “We thought we might have to go out there and be put in bad field position, but to explode out of the gate like that for a touchdown was definitely great. For them to be able connect like that was awesome.”
And though the stats don’t really show it, the play of the defense was awesome, too.