SYRACUSE, N.Y. — No. 25 Clemson survived another scare Friday night, this one from Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Here are four sequences that went a long way toward determining the outcome, a turning point and a telling stat from the Tigers’ 17-14 win.
- The teams traded punts on the first four possessions of the game before Syracuse grabbed the first real momentum in the game. The Orange posed their first scoring threat late in the first quarter when Sean Tucker ripped off a 54-yard run off tackle to get Syracuse all the way to Clemson’s 19-yard line. But safety Tyler Venables quickly swung the momentum in the Tigers’ favor when he intercepted Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader on the next snap to keep the Orange off the scoreboard for the time being.
- Clemson’s offense showed its first signs of life early in the second quarter when the Tigers put together a 12-play, 87-yard scoring drive. First, D.J. Uiagalelei found Ajou Ajou for 8 yards on third-and-7 near midfield to keep it alive. Then, with the Tigers facing third-and-13 in the red zone after a false-start penalty, Uiagalelei threw a 19-yard touchdown strike to Joseph Ngata, who got his heel in before falling out of bounds near the back corner of the end zone. But that momentum was short-lived as Syracuse immediately answered with a 91-yard scoring drive. Shrader kept it alive with a 14-yard completion to Sharod Johnson on third-and-9 to put the Orange near midfield. Tucker followed with a 32-yard gallop to get Syracuse closer before Shrader capped the possession with a 2-yard run to tie the game at 7 with 5:33 left in the first half.
- Clemson began its final drive of the first half at its own 42 and moved 17 yards before Uiagalelei’s third-down pass fell incomplete. But instead of punting, the Tigers dialed up a fake punt. Will Spiers took the snap and gave a pump fake near the line of scrimmage before heaving a pass down the sideline to tight end Davis Allen, who extended over cornerback Garrett Williams to come down with a 17-yard catch down to Syracuse’s 24. Uiagalelei followed with a couple of deep completions on long down-and-distances, including a 15-yarder to Justyn Ross near the goal line for a fresh set of downs. Kobe Pace punched it in from 2 yards two plays later to give Clemson a 14-7 lead with just 9 seconds left in the first half.
- After the teams traded punts throughout the third quarter, Clemson took advantage of some luck early in the fourth when Courtney Jackson dropped Shrader’s third-down pass deep over the middle, resulting in another punt. The Tigers then moved 46 yards on seven plays to set up B.T. Potter’s 40-yard field goal that gave Clemson a coveted two-score lead with 9:22 left, but it didn’t take long for Syracuse to respond with its longest pass play against an ACC opponent all season. Shrader found Trevor Pena behind the Tigers’ defense, and Pena broke a tackle before outracing the rest of Clemson’s defense for a 62-yard score to cut the Tigers’ lead to 17-14.
Clemson had a chance to pick up a first down and milk more clock with 5 minutes left, but it didn’t happen after Uiageleli’s third-down pass for Ross fell incomplete. The Tigers had a chance to get off the field after forcing Syracuse into third-and-13 from its own 15, but that didn’t happen after Shrader scrambled to find Damien Alford for 17 yards. Clemson had a chance to essentially end the game later in the drive with Syracuse forced to go on fourth-and-7 from its own 33 with 2:21 left, but Shrader again bought enough time to find Anthony Queeley for 17 more yards. Mario Goodrich then had a potential interception slip through his hands. But the Tigers finally got the stop they needed when Andrew Szmyt missed a 48-yard field goal with just 43 seconds remaining, helping Clemson escape in yet another white-knuckler.
Telling stat: 27
That’s how many rushing yards Syracuse had in the second half. After gashing the Tigers for 138 yards in the first half on the ground — 36 more than Clemson allowed on average coming in — Clemson keyed in on Tucker and Shrader in the final two quarters and made the Orange one-dimensional. Shrader connected on the 62-yard score earlier in the fourth quarter, but he couldn’t make enough plays through the air, finishing just 17 of 37 for 191 yards with an interception.
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