Top-ranked Clemson was not nearly as sharp in the first half Saturday as it has been. There was an interception, dropped passes, overthrows, a fumble, a blocked punt and a missed field goal. Yet, despite their lack of execution, the Tigers lead Syracuse 27-14 at halftime.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw two touchdown passes and running back Travis Etienne ran for a score, but at times Clemson did not look sharp as the Orange keyed on slowing down Etienne and the Clemson rushing attack.
Lawrence, who was completing 72 percent of his passes coming into Saturday’s game, was just 20-of-32 for 203 yards in the first 30 minutes. His pass to Amari Rodgers with 1:30 to play in the half was thrown behind his star receiver and off his hands. Syracuse’s Garrett Williams came up with the tipped ball and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. That made the score 24-14 with 1:18 to play before halftime.
Etienne, who came in needing 129 yards to break Ted Brown’s career-rushing record in the ACC, finished with 59 yards at halftime. Clemson finished the first half with 322 yards overall.
The Clemson defense was also a little off. The Orange totaled 127 yards in the first half, including 69 rushing yards. The Tigers were allowing just 96 yards per game on the ground coming in.
The defense did not even register a sack, though Syracuse ranks last in the ACC in sacks allowed coming in and Clemson ranks second in total sacks nationally.
After Lyn-J Dixon took the opening kick 49 yards to the Syracuse 47-yard line, the offense looked like it was going to roll. Lawrence connected with Cornell Powell for a 25-yard score, which the Clemson receiver did most of the work. Powell caught the pass, made a man miss and dove into the end zone for six points.
Clemson did extend its lead to 17-0 in the first quarter. B.T. Potter made a 25-yard field goal attempt following a Nolan Turner interception that set the Tigers up at the Syracuse 13. Then Etienne broke through the line for a 25-yard touchdown with 4:25 to play in the first quarter.
But the Clemson offense continued to misfire after that. Lawrence was high on a few throws and three of his passes were dropped. After one possession did nothing, Syracuse blocked Will Spiers’ punt, setting the Orange up at the Clemson 20.
Four plays later, Syracuse running back Sean Tucker ran the ball into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown, cutting the Clemson lead to 17-7 with 14:15 to play in the half.
Clemson extended its lead to 24-7 just before the end of the half when Lawrence found tight end Davis Allen wide open in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 2:54 to go.
Potter added a 36-yard field goal as time expired.