To say second-ranked Clemson had been there before, would have been a lie.
Granted, the Tigers trailed late before in big games and found ways to win. However, those were teams that had Deshaun Watson playing quarterback. Not Chase Brice, a redshirt freshman at the time, who had thrown just eight passes against Furman, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech combined before the Tigers hosted Syracuse on September 29, 2018.
But here they were, 94 yards away with 6:06 to play and staring at a possible loss and playing with their backup quarterback. Starter Trevor Lawrence left the game in the second quarter with a neck injury and did not return.
“Just take what they give us,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said he was thinking at the time.
What Syracuse was willing to give the Tigers was the run, and Clemson took advantage of it, running to a come-from-behind 27-23 victory at Death Valley. Behind the legs of Travis Etienne, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster the Tigers methodically went down the field eating the clock and driving to victory.
“We knew we were going to have to run the ball and just try to get Chase settled in,” Elliott said. “We just did not want to put him in any tough situations, and we were able to run the football. They kept giving us the weakside run and I kept thinking, please don’t take it away or we would have to go to something else.
“They played with the heart of a champion.”
During its 13-play, 94-yard scoring drive, Clemson definitely played like a champion, especially when it faced fourth-and-six at its own 48 with 2:50 to play in the game. That’s when Brice threw a laser to Tee Higgins for a 20-yard gain along the sideline for a first down at the Syracuse 32.
“It wasn’t an easy throw,” Elliott said. “That just goes to show you the confidence that Chase has. I’m just really proud of him to come in and make that play.”
It was an impressive throw as the freshman got the ball just over the head of the corner and right before the safety got over the top with 2:45 to play in the game.
“I vaguely remember it to be honest,” Brice said afterward. “When you have a guy like Tee Higgins to get the ball to, it makes your life a lot easier. When you have your linemen stick the D-Linemen and you sit in a clean pocket and just make throws, it makes it a lot easier.”
Brice made it look easy on the next play too when he pulled the ball on a zone-read and ran 17 yards up the right side to set the Tigers up at the Syracuse 15.
“To read an interior pressure and to pull it on a divided zone, that is a good play,” Elliott said. “If he hands it off, we are going to get tackled probably in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. But he pulls and rushes for a positive gain and that keeps us on the attack and gives us an opportunity to score points.”
That opportunity to score came a few minutes later when Etienne scored the game-winner from 2 yards out with 41 seconds left in the game.
“This showed how we can overcome adversity and how we are able to learn from our mistakes throughout the game,” Etienne said. “I think this win just really builds a lot of character throughout the team.”
And it shows how this year’s team knows how to win close games as well.
–video courtesy of the ACC Digital Network
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