On a day when the offense was not as explosive as it has been in recent weeks, the Clemson defense decided it was going to take the lead.
Needing a play, needing something to change the momentum after Syracuse cut what was once a 17-point lead to six, the top-ranked Tigers made the play of the afternoon as Mike Jones and Bryan Bresee combined to strip the ball from quarterback Rex Culpepper and Andrew Booth picked it up and ran it in for six points.
Booth’s scoop-and-score turned the momentum of the game as the Tigers scored the game’s last 20 points in a 47-21 victory at Death Valley.
“That was a really big play,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We rolled the coverage, and we blitz him. We kind of changed the post-snap look for the quarterback and he held the ball. Between those two guys, I think Mike knocked the guy right back. He did a great job not running by the quarterback, using his hands and collapsing the pocket.
“Instead of getting on the edges and letting the quarterback run out the front door, him and Bryan did a great job on that play and knocked the ball loose there.”
From there, the Clemson defense got two more turnovers. Jones stepped in front of pass while playing Tampa 2 and took the interception to the Syracuse 3-yard line. That set up a Travis Etienne touchdown.
“I told him that was the best play in Tampa,” Venables said. “We were in Tampa 2. That was his best snap in Tampa. We have been going round and round about that one and just getting better fundamentally, positionally and things like that. So, it was just a great time tip to put that on tape and another short field was created by that turnover.”
Safety Jalyn Phillips got the next interception—the Tigers’ third of the day—when he stepped in front of a pass in the end zone to stop a possible Syracuse touchdown. Venables, as well as head coach Dabo Swinney, praised Phillips’ hustle prior to the interception when he chased down wide receiver Nykeim Johnson from behind after Johnson ran 61 yards on an end-around-reverse.
“We gave up a big play, so what are we going to do about it. They still have to score.” Swinney said. “Jayln comes right back. They run a corner route. He reads it perfectly. He plays great technique, steps right in front of it and here we go.
“There were just a lot of good things and it just goes back to preparation.”
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