Clemson survived against Syracuse on Friday night, escaping the Carrier Dome with a 17-14 win.
The Tigers improved to 4-2 (3-1 ACC), while the Orange fell to 3-4 (0-3).
The game was tied 0-0 at the end of the first quarter. Syracuse opened the game with a 12-play drive, but it got derailed when quarterback Garrett Shrader was flagged for a facemask penalty. Later in the first quarter, the Orange’s first real scoring threat was thwarted by an interception from Tyler Venables – one play after a 54-yard run by Sean Tucker to the Clemson 19-yard line.
Clemson took advantage of the turnover and struck first at the 9:06 mark of the second quarter when D.J. Uiagalelei connected with Joseph Ngata for a 19-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play, 87-yard drive. It was a highlight-reel grab by Ngata, who extended upward to snag the pass while falling backward in the end zone and got his right foot in bounds before his backside landed out of bounds.
Syracuse immediately answered back with a 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that took less than four minutes. One play after Tucker rushed up the middle for a 39-yard gain to the Clemson 2-yard line, Shrader kept it himself for a rushing touchdown that evened the score at 7 after the extra point.
Late in the first half, it appeared as if Clemson would punt from the Syracuse 41-yard line with a little more than a minute left in the second quarter. But instead, the Tigers pulled off a fake punt, with punter Will Spiers completing a 17-yard pass to Davis Allen to the Syracuse 24.
Clemson capitalized on the successful fake punt and punched the ball into the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run up the gut by Kobe Pace that gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead at halftime. The score was set up by a 15-yard completion from Uiagalelei to Justyn Ross, who climbed the ladder and came down with an impressive catch at the 2.
Much like the first quarter, the third quarter was scoreless. The two teams combined to run 30 plays for 76 yards in the frame.
The Tigers extended their lead with 9:22 left in the game when B.T. Potter booted a 40-yard field goal to make the score 17-7. But once again, the Orange quickly responded with points of their own — a 62-yard touchdown strike from Shrader to Trebor Pena that cut Clemson’s lead to 17-14.
Syracuse got the ball back at its own 7-yard line with 4:40 remaining and the chance to tie the game with a field goal or take the lead with a touchdown. The Orange converted a third-and-15, as well as a fourth-and-7, and moved the ball to Clemson’s 30-yard line with 43 seconds to play.
On fourth-and-1, Syracuse brought on kicker Andre Szmyt — who became the Orange’s all-time leading scorer earlier in the game — to attempt a 48-yard field goal.
But Szmyt missed short left, and Clemson took over and subsequently took a knee to end the game and escape the Carrier Dome with a 17-14 victory.
What went right?
With the exception of allowing a 91-yard touchdown drive in the first half, and giving up a 62-yard touchdown pass in the second half, Clemson’s defense played well again and posted another championship-caliber performance overall.
The Tigers stood strong enough defensively on Cuse’s final drive and forced a long field goal attempt, which turned out to be no good.
Clemson gave up 138 rushing yards in the first half but yielded just 27 rushing yards after the break.
What went wrong?
There’s plenty to choose from, but most obviously, Clemson’s offense continued to sputter for the most part. The Tigers’ attack looked out of sorts again and couldn’t get a whole lot going on the ground or through the air, with penalties, missed throws and a bad snap over Uiagalelei’s head, among other miscues, not helping the cause.
Uiagalelei threw for 181 yards and the Tigers averaged only 3.1 yards per carry on 37 attempts.
The game-changing moment occurred, of course, on the second-to-last play of the game. Szmyt had a chance to tie the game with a 48-yard field goal with less than a minute left but couldn’t knock it through. The Tigers then kneeled down to seal the win.
Had Szmyt been able to tie the score and force overtime, who knows what would have happened. Fortunately for the Tigers, they didn’t have to find out.
Clemson Variety & Frame is doing their part to help bring you some classic new barware and help one of the local businesses that helps make Clemson special.
Order your Nick’s barware and do your part to help. #SaveNicks