CLEMSON, SC - The Tigers were far from perfect on Saturday but still managed to beat Syracuse by 26 points thanks to an outstanding effort by the defense and 3 touchdowns by Travis Etienne. The Tigers jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the 1st quarter, and my 59-0 prediction was looking good, but then the sloppy play and mistakes started piling up, beginning with a blocked Will Spiers punt on the Tigers' 20 yard line. Cuse capitalized on that to make it 17-7 early in the 2nd quarter, and the Tigers remained in a funk for the next quarter and a half. A 17-yard completion to Davis Allen made it 24-7, but on the next possession with 1:30 left in the half, Trevor Lawrence threw a pick-six on 1st down from the 12-yard line to once again cut the lead to 10. It was a poor throw, behind a wide-open Amari Rodgers, who tried to swing his body around to make the catch. The ball deflected out of his hands right into those of the Syracuse defender. As I wrote in my preview, Cuse was 3rd nationally in interceptions, and Trevor has now thrown picks in back-to-back games after a year without one. He also got away with one earlier in the game, another errant pass that a Syracuse defender dropped. Trevor had a reasonably good game, going 27-43 for 289 yards and 2 TD's. For most quarterbacks that would be a great game, but it was far from the brilliant performance we saw in one half at Georgia Tech last week.
The defense was missing 4 starters on Saturday: Skalski, Kendrick, Tyler Davis and Justin Foster. However, the unit still allowed just 14 points, and 7 came after the blocked punt on the 20-yard line. I'll qualify that by pointing out that Syracuse was missing several key players on offense as well, including its starting QB, their best wide receiver and a couple running backs, including starter Sean Tucker, who missed the 2nd half after scoring a TD in the 1st half. The Tigers gave up some big plays, like the 83-yard touchdown completion with safety Joseph Charleston in coverage on the slot receiver or the 61-yard reverse run, but the defense forced 4 turnovers, including a scoop-and-score and a near pick-six, plus a turnover on downs. The scoop-and-score was perhaps the play of the game, as it really rejuvenated the pensive Death Valley crowd after Cuse had cut the lead to 6 points in the 3rd quarter. Bryan Bresee and Mike Jones combined to sack the quarterback and force a fumble, recovered by Andrew Booth and returned 21 yards for the score. That put the Tigers ahead by 13 points and ignited the crowd. As I wrote in my preview, Syracuse was No.1 nationally in turnover margin coming into the game, but the Tigers were plus 3 on Saturday, not including the turnover on downs. After no interceptions in the first 2 games of the season, the Tigers now have 9 in the last 4 games! Nolan Turner collected his 3rd of the season to start the avalanche on Saturday. Mike Jones and Jalyn Phillips came up with the other two interceptions. Phillips made his INT in the end zone after hustling the length of the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle at the 9-yard line after the 61-yard reverse. It was great to see him reward himself for the effort on the very next play! That was the Tigers' 3rd interception in the end zone this season, incidentally. All of the absent defenders have minor injuries and should be back in the lineup soon, with the possible exception of Justin Foster, who has been out all season.
Travis Etienne played with leg cramps but still managed to score the hat trick. He tied Donnel Pumphrey for the most career games (41) with a TD in FBS history. He is also now top-10 all-time in career rush TD's. He had to receive and I.V. in the locker room and finished with 86 yards on just 16 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Not bad for a guy with leg cramps! Davis Allen had a TD reception for the 3rd straight game. Will Spiers successfully executed a fake punt, running for 6 yards and a 1st down in the 2nd quarter. Dabo told me after the game that he felt that the team needed some momentum at that point in the game, and thought Cuse was vulnerable to the fake punt from watching film. Unfortunately, the Tigers were unable to capitalize on the play, as Potter missed a 37-yard field goal wide right. It was Potter's first miss of the season, not counting the 3 blocked kicks against Miami.
Unlike the near-perfect game last week, there were several mistakes by the Tigers in all three phases on Saturday, but they'll get better from this. In fact, it's probably better to have a game like this from time to time rather than play perfect and win by 66 points every week. This will allow the Tigers to self-scout and get better because you certainly don't want those mistakes to rear in the playoff against elite teams. The Tigers have now won 38 straight non-playoff games, which passes Nebraska for the third-longest such streak of all time. They've extended their school-record home win streak to 26 games, have won 27 straight ACC games and extended their all-time FBS record to 49 straight Saturday wins. Dabo passed Steve Spurrier and tied Jim Tressel on the list of most games coached as AP No.1. The Tigers will have one more home tune-up next week against Boston College before the big one at Notre Dame.
Be sure to click the link below for all our post-game interviews and our Sunday evening teleconference with Dabo!
Clemson has now won each of its first six games of a season by 18 points or more for the first time in school history.
Clemson has now opened a season with six consecutive games scoring 37 points or more for the first time in school history.
Clemson scored at least 40 points for a fifth-straight game, the second-longest streak in school history behind a six-game streak last season.
Clemson recorded four takeaways, Clemson’s 17th game with four or more takeaways under Head Coach Dabo Swinney. It was Clemson’s most takeaways in a game since a four-takeaway game against NC State last November.
Clemson won the turnover margin, 4-1. Clemson finished a season-best +3 in the turnover margin, its first performance with a +3 turnover margin since last year’s ACC Championship Game against Virginia. Clemson is now 15-0 under Dabo Swinney all-time when finishing a game +3 or better in the turnover margin.
Clemson’s three interceptions gave the Tigers their second three-interception game of the season, joining the team’s win against Miami (Fla.) two weeks ago.
Clemson passed for 308 passing yards and has now produced back-to-back 300-yard passing performances for the first time this season and for the first time since a four-game streak against NC State, Wake Forest, South Carolina and Virginia last season.
Running back Travis Etienne rushed 16 times for 86 yards with three rushing touchdowns. He also added three catches for 20 yards.
Etienne’s three rushing touchdowns matched his career high, set previously five times including most recently against Boston College in October 2019. It was his ninth career game with three or more total touchdowns (including receiving touchdowns), his first since last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
Etienne now has seven career rushing touchdowns against Syracuse, his most against any opponent.
Etienne scored a touchdown of any kind in a 41st different game of his career, matching the FBS record held by San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey from 2013-16. (*NOTE: Entering the 2020 season, the NCAA FBS Record Book listed Florida's Tim Tebow (38 games from 2006-09) and Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon (38 from 2012-15) as the record-holders for most career games scoring a touchdown. Etienne was believed to have broken that record by scoring in a 39th career game against Miami. However, after additional research by ESPN, the NCAA acknowledged an error in its record book and updated it to reflect Pumphrey scoring a touchdown in 41 games from 2013-16.).
During the game, Etienne (4,583) became the 12th player in school history to record 4,500 career yards of total offense. Every player ahead of him in school annals recorded at least 3,300 passing yards to help reach that figure; Etienne has 23 career passing yards.
On his first score, a 25-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Etienne passed Woodrow Dantzler (68) for sole possession of fourth on Clemson's all-time leaderboard for career touchdown responsibility. Etienne is fourth on that list despite not having a passing touchdown to his credit in a category that credits both touchdowns scored and touchdowns thrown.
During the game, Etienne (64) entered the Top 10 in FBS history in career rushing touchdowns according to official NCAA records. Etienne passes Donnel Pumphrey (62) and Ron Dayne (63) and is now tied with Anthony Thompson and Cedric Benson (64 each) for seventh-most in FBS history.
With his second touchdown of the game, Etienne became only the seventh FBS player since 1956 to record 70 career total touchdowns.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 27-of-43 passes for 289 yards with two touchdown passes. His 43 pass attempts were a career high, surpassing his 41 against Miami earlier this season.
Lawrence improved to 31-1 as a starter to pull within one win of the school record for wins as a starting quarterback. Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson are all tied for the school record with 32 wins each.
WIth his second touchdown pass of the game, Lawrence(97) passed Marquise Williams (96) for fifth on the ACC's all-time career leaderboard for touchdown responsibility.
Lawrence recorded an eight-yard reception on a pass from Amari Rodgers. It was his third career reception, but his first that didn’t come from himself on a batted pass.
The pass completion by Rodgers to Lawrence was the first pass completion by a Clemson receiver since Hunter Renfrow against Wake Forest in 2018. However, Renfrow was playing quarterback on that play in his role as the team’s emergency quarterback. The last pass completion by a receiver playing in his normal position was Deon Cain against Wake Forest in 2015.
Lawrence opened the scoring on a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cornell Powell on the game’s opening drive.
Powell has now scored a touchdown in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Tight end Davis Allen caught his third touchdown pass of the season on a 17-yard pass from Lawrence in the second quarter.
Allen became the first Clemson tight end with a touchdown catch in three consecutive games since Jordan Leggett against Georgia Tech, Louisville and Boston College in 2016.
Allen’s touchdown was the sixth’s by a Clemson tight end through six games this season. In the previous three seasons, Clemson tight ends combined for four total touchdowns in 44 games across 2017-19.
Receiver Amari Rodgers recorded a career-high eight receptions for 91 yards. He now has four straight games with at least six receptions and has caught at least five passes in five of Clemson’s six games this season.
Defensive back NolanTurner recorded the game’s first takeaway on an interception on Syracuse’s second possession. It was his single-season career-high third interception of 2020.
Turner became the first Clemson player with an interception in back-to-back games since both he and Isaiah Simmons picked off passes against Virginia and Ohio State last season.
Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. scored his first career touchdown on a 21-yard fumble return in the third quarter.
The fumble returned by Booth was forced by defensive tackle Bryan Bresee on a half-sack split with linebacker Mike Jones Jr.
It was Clemson’s second fumble return for touchdown this season, joining James Skalski’s scoop and score against The Citadel. Clemson has now recorded multiple fumble return touchdowns in a single season for the first time since 2013.
With Clemson’s fumble return touchdown and Syracuse’s interception return touchdown, the game was Clemson’s first in which both teams recorded a defensive touchdown since 2014 when Clemson’s Jadar Johnson and South Carolina State’s Dominique Mitchell each scored via fumble return.
Jones added his first career interception in the fourth quarter, returning it 40 yards to the Syracuse three-yard line to set up a Clemson touchdown.
Defensive back Jalyn Phillips recorded his first career interception in the fourth quarter. The interception came one play after Phillips made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 61-yard rush by Syracuse.
Defensive end Xavier Thomas recorded his first sack of the season. He has had one sack in each of his three career games against Syracuse.
Running back Lyn-J Dixon opened the game with a 49-yard kickoff return, three yards shy of his season-long and career-long 52-yarder against Virginia.
Punter Will Spiers, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday, averaged 53.6 yards on five punts, including four of 50 yards or more. It was his third straight game with a punting average of 50.0 yards or more, a career-long streak.
Spiers recorded a career-long-tying 64-yard punt in the first quarter, matching 64-yard punts against Louisville in 2017 and against Charlotte in 2019.
Spiers’ second punt of the game was blocked, Clemson’s first punt block surrendered since 2010 when South Florida blocked a Clemson punt in that year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl. Clemson went 615 punts between blocks surrendered across 2010-20.
Spiers converted a fourth-and-3 on a fake punt with a six-yard rush in the second quarter. It was the third career first down to which he’s contributed but his first via rush. Spiers threw for a first down on a fake punt in 2017 and threw for one last week in his role as an emergency quarterback.
Syracuse scored on a 39-yard interception return for touchdown in the second quarter. It ended a streak of 15 full games in which Clemson had not allowed a single point off of turnovers. The streak covered more than a calendar year, dating to Sept. 28, 2019. Clemson’s defense still has not surrendered any points off turnovers since that date, as the seven points off turnovers surrendered Saturday were given up by the offense.
Clemson played its 20th game all-time while ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, the 15th-most since the poll's inception in 1936. It was Dabo Swinney's 19th game coached at No. 1, tying him with Jim Tressel for 17th all-time.
Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 25 in every contest against Syracuse all-time, including a Top 3 ranking in seven of its eight most recent matchups with the Orange since 2013.
Captains for the contest were tight end J.C. Chalk, defensive end K.J. Henry, wide receiver Cornell Powell and safety Elijah Turner.
WITH THE WIN....
Clemson has now opened a season 6-0 for the 16th time in school history, joining the 1900, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1948, 1981, 1987, 2000, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons. Clemson's six-year streak of 6-0 starts is the longest active streak in the country.
Clemson improved to 18-2 all-time when ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press. Clemson has never lost a regular season game as the nation's top-ranked team.
Clemson won its 26th consecutive home game to extend its school record for the longest home winning streak in school history. Of the 119 players on Clemson's 2020 roster, 110 have never experienced a home loss in their Clemson careers. Nine fifth-year seniors on Clemson's 2020 roster were on the 2016 team that recovered from a home loss to Pitt by winning the national championship that season.
Clemson (26 straight home wins) now takes sole possession of the school record for its longest home unbeaten streak. The previous record had been set when Clemson went unbeaten in 25 straight games at Memorial Stadium from 1980-84, posting 23 wins and two ties under Danny Ford in that span.
Though 2020 is technically being played sans divisions, Clemson defeated a traditional ACC Atlantic Division opponent for the 16th straight time and for the 36th time in its last 37 opportunities.
Clemson won its 27th consecutive game against an ACC opponent, including postseason play. The 27-game winning streak against conference opponents pulls Clemson within one game of the 2012-15 Florida State Seminoles (28) for the second-longest streak in ACC history.
Clemson has now won 35 consecutive regular season games, the longest such streak in ACC annals, tying the 2008-10 Boise State Broncos (35) for the longest such streak in ESPN Stats & Info data back to 2005.
Clemson won its 38th consecutive non-bowl game, passing the 1992-96 Nebraska Cornhuskers for sole possession of the third-longest streak in the AP Poll era. Clemson’s 38 consecutive wins in non-bowl games includes 35 regular season games and three conference championship games.
Clemson improved to 25-1 in October games in the College Football Playoff era (since 2014).
Clemson pushed its winning streak in Saturday games to 49 to extend the longest Saturday winning streak in FBS history.
Clemson has now won 78 of its last 83 games overall dating to 2014.
Clemson has won 48 of its last 50 games against ACC teams.
Clemson has now won 84 of its last 86 games when leading at halftime, including each of its last 47 such games.
Clemson improved to 106-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson is now 56-1 when scoring first since 2015.
Clemson now has a 104-2 record when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson is now 62-3 when winning the turnover margin since 2011.
Clemson is now 45-1 at home since 2014, the best winning percentage in the country.
Clemson has now won 86 straight games when holding teams under 23 points (dates to 2010).
Clemson improved to 7-2 all-time against Syracuse.
Clemson remained undefeated at home against Syracuse. The win improved Clemson to 4-0 against Syracuse at Memorial Stadium.