NO.1 CLEMSON MAKES IT THROUGH SYRACUSE GAME WITH STARTING QB AND CRUISES TO 18TH STRAIGHT WIN
- 2019-09-15 12:06:26
SYRACUSE, NY – The Defending Champs wanted to go to Syracuse and leave no doubt this time after playing without their starting quarterback in the last two meetings, and that’s exactly what they did. There were ups and downs for the offense, but the defense was spectacular from start to finish, and No.1 Clemson extended its nation-leading win streak to 18 games, a new school record. For a few breathless minutes, it looked as if it was deja vu all over again when Travis Etienne took a hard knee to the helmet and struggled to get off the turf. It looked as if the Tigers might lose a key offensive player in the first half for a third straight year against Syracuse, but fortunately Etienne returned to the game on the next series and is fine. Dabo told me after the game that it was more of a stinger to the neck and shoulder area rather than a concussion issue. The Tigers would go on to exorcise their Syracuse demons, routing Cuse 41-6. In the last two meetings with Syracuse in which the Tigers have had their starting quarterback throughout--2016 and 2019--they've outscored Cuse 95-6!
The Tigers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and it looked as if they might put the game to bed early, but they allowed the Orange to hang around, not scoring another touchdown until the second half. It was 17-6 at halftime, and when Trevor Lawrence threw an interception inside the Tigers’ red zone on their first possession of the third quarter, the Carrier Dome erupted. With the ball on the Tigers’ 9-yard-line, it looked as if the Orange would make it a one-score game and full control of the momentum. However, sophomore corner Mario Goodrich came up with an enormous interception on the very next play, allowing the Tigers to recapture momentum with a 87-yard touchdown completion to Amari Rodgers. That put the Tigers up 24-6, and the defense would take care of the rest, shutting Cuse out in the second half. Goodrich saw the most snaps in his young career on Saturday night due to back spasms suffered by starter Derion Kendrick. Venables told me after the game that it was a big step forward for the true sophomore. He also had a big PBU in the end zone during the 1st quarter.
The aforementioned pick by Goodrich wasn’t the only time the defense would rise to a sudden-change opportunity. Trevor threw another interception in the third quarter, and Travis Etienne made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 3-yard line. It was nearly identical to the tackle Trevor made in the opener, making a touchdown-saving tackle at the exact same spot on the field. Just like that situation, the defense rose up and came up with a goal line stand on four plays to get a turnover on downs. At that point, the crowd knew the game was over. It’s remarkable that the Tigers’ two Heisman candidates made such similar touchdown-saving tackles in the first three games, and that in both instances the defense rewarded their efforts with four-play goal-line stands! The offense would then drive 78 yards for a 37-yard Potter field goal to make it 27-6. In all, the defense allowed just 187 total yards—one of their best performances ever on the road. After three games played, I think it’s safe to say that this defense has exceeded expectations by far and shocked those in the national media who pointed to the losses on the defensive line as a potential weakness. The Tigers held Georgia Tech to 7 points until late in the 4th quarter, held a very good Texas A&M offense to just 3 points until a 4th down play with 6 seconds left in the game, and now they’ve gone on the road and kept Syracuse out of the end zone despite two sudden-change situations inside the 10-yard-line! The Tigers racked up 8 sacks, including 2 by Isaiah Simmons, who also led the team with 11 tackles. True freshman Tyler Davis added a sack and a half, as did James Skalski.
The offense—irrespective of the two interceptions—managed to rack up a whopping 612 yards. Other than the two picks, Trevor had very good numbers. He was 22-39 for 395 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, and he rushed for 42 yards with another touchdown. He now has a rush TD in each of the first three games after just one all last season. It’s a little disconcerting that he has also thrown 5 interceptions after just 4 (and one was a fluke) all season last year, but I expect him to stop making most of those mistakes as the season progresses. His first pick on Saturday was on the wide receiver. He should have knocked the ball down instead of allowing the corner to bat the ball in the air to himself. On the second one, it looked as if he didn’t even see the defender in the area. Again, I expect him to clean up his game and decision-making as the season goes on, and by the time the playoff rolls around, he should resemble the prodigy we saw against Notre Dame and Alabama. Many fans and even those in the national media have been spoiled by his performance against Alabama, expecting him to perform at that level in every game, but that is just not humanly possible. No quarterback in history—college or NFL—has performed at that level in every outing, let alone a 19-year-old. The scary thing is that this team is just scratching the surface of its potential on both sides of the ball, yet they are dominating every team they play. I can’t wait to see the finished product come Christmas! True freshman Frank Ladson made a terrific catch falling backward for his second TD of the season, and fellow true freshman Chez Mellusi provided the exclamation point with a 57-yard run for his first career TD with under a minute left in the game.
How about Amari Rodgers in his second game back, having torn his ACL just 6 months ago?! If anyone could rehab from ACL surgery as quickly and successfully as Deshaun Watson, I knew that person would be Amari Rodgers. From the time he set foot on campus as a freshman, the coaches talked about his professionalism, commitment and work ethic. All of his determination and hard work over the last six months paid off on Saturday with a monster game for the junior slot receiver. He told me after the game that he had a bad game against Syracuse last year and that he wanted to redeem himself for that. Boy, did he! Amari scored the Tigers’ first touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Trevor, and he showed his breakaway speed on the 87-yard touchdown reception in the third that really took the crowd out of the game. I asked Dabo just a week before the opener if there was any chance Amari would play against Texas A&M, and Dabo said there was “no chance,” and that they expected him to be back by the end of September or early October. The Tigers are fortunate Amari got himself ready so far ahead of schedule! He also returned punts for the first time this season due to Kendrick’s back spasms.
The biggest negative of the game was the turnover margin, which was 2-1 in favor of Syracuse. The Tigers had won the turnover margin in 5 straight games, which was their longest streak since 2013. If they had been able to stretch it to 6, it would have been the longest streak since 1989-90.
First-year starting kicker BT Potter was clutch in his first hostile road environment, making his first two attempts from 40 and 37. He missed his third attempt off the upright when the game was in hand, but that can be attributed to the high snap. Will Swinney did a good job catching the snap and putting the down the hold with the laces out, but Potter was just inches too far left. Potter continues to be a weapon in the field position battle, getting touchbacks on all 6 of his kickoffs. Spiers averaged 40.5 yards on his 6 punts, landing one in the end zone for a touchback. He continues to suffer by comparison, though, seemingly going head-to-head with Ray Guy every week. Texas A&M had the reigning Ray Guy Award winner last week, and Syacuse’s punter averaged 52.2 yards on his 9 punts Saturday night, with 3 inside the 20 and a long of 65.
The Tigers have cleared their two biggest hurdles of the regular season schedule and will only get better each week. The toughest game remaining will likely be NC State in Raleigh, where it always seems to be a dog fight for the Tigers. State has a new quarterback, though, and struggled with a poor West Virginia team on Saturday. The Tigers have started a new 20-point win streak after coming up 6 seconds short of tying Alabama for the longest streak ever. It will be tough to go through the playoff with a pair of blowout wins again like last year, but if they do, that would give them the all-time longest streak at 13 straight wins by 20 points or more. Next up is a night home game against Charlotte in Death Valley. The Tigers will be able to make a lot of improvements before returning to ACC play at UNC on the 28th. Click the link below for post-game interviews and much more!
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