Second-ranked Clemson defeated Syracuse, 27-23, on Saturday at Death Valley. The Tigers improved to 5-0 (2-0 ACC), while the Orange fell to 4-1 (1-1).
Here’s a look back at Clemson’s nail-biting, come-from-behind victory:
Syracuse took a 16-7 lead into halftime thanks to three field goals by Andre Szymt, including a 51-yarder in the first quarter, and a 1-yard touchdown run by Eric Dungey with 7:31 left in the second quarter.
A pair of field goals from Greg Huegel in the third quarter cut Clemson’s deficit to 16-13, but the Orange then took a 10-point lead on another 1-yard touchdown run by Dungey at the start of the fourth quarter.
However, the Tigers answered right back by marching on a six-play, 75-yard drive in under two minutes. Travis Etienne capped off the possession with his second rushing touchdown of the contest, a 26-yard sprint that trimmed Syracuse’s lead to 23-20 at the 11:08 mark of the fourth quarter.
Etienne later found the end zone again for a go-ahead, 2-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds remaining in the game that gave the Tigers a 27-23 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
What went right?
First and foremost, Clemson’s running game — the Tigers amassed 293 rushing yards on 53 attempts (5.5 yards per carry). Etienne scored all three of Clemson’s touchdowns on the ground while running for a career-high 203 yards on 27 carries (7.5 average).
Defensively, Clemson bounced back in the second half after allowing 10 points and 149 total yards in the second quarter. In the second half, the Tigers yielded just seven points and 90 total yards.
Hunter Renfrow made a spectacular 28-yard catch on third-and-8 to extend one of Clemson’s scoring drives in the third quarter. On Syracuse’s ensuing offensive possession, Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepted a pass and returned it 20 yards to Syracuse’s 28-yard line to set up another Tigers score.
On special teams, Huegel bounced back to make field goals of 43 and 37 yards in the third quarter after missing one in the first half.
What went wrong?
Of course, Trevor Lawrence exited the game in the final minutes of the first half with an upper-body injury after being hit near the sideline by Syracuse safety Evan Foster. The freshman quarterback did not return to the game, which forced redshirt freshman Chase Brice to lead Clemson’s offense for the rest of the day.
Also, Amari Rodgers made a costly error on special teams as time expired in the third quarter. The sophomore failed to secure the catch on a punt return, allowing the ball to slip through his hands, and Syracuse recovered the fumble at Clemson’s 10-yard line. The Orange capitalized on the turnover early in the fourth quarter, taking a 23-13 lead on a Dungey touchdown run and making the Tigers’ comeback attempt even more difficult.
Among other things that went wrong for Clemson were Huegel’s missed 47-yard field-goal attempt in the first half and the offensive line giving up four sacks and six tackles for loss.
With Kelly Bryant no longer part of the team after deciding to transfer this week, and Lawrence sidelined with an injury, Clemson’s backup quarterback stepped up when his team needed him the most. On fourth-and-6 from Clemson’s 48-yard line – with Clemson down by three points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and the game on the line – Brice made the throw of the game, laying in a precise 20-yard pass to Tee Higgins in between two defenders to extend the drive.
Five plays later, Etienne ran in the game-winning touchdown from 2 yards out with under a minute remaining. It capped off a 13-play, 94-yard drive that gave the Tigers a 27-23 lead and thrilling comeback win.