Even though the Tigers put up 375 yards of total offense, it felt like the worst performance of the Chad Morris era. Ill-timed passes, missed assignments, turnovers and a multitude of horizontal pass plays dominated the game... and that's being kind. It looked like Cole Stoudt didn't know what to expect on various blitzes by Syracuse's defense in the first half. Perhaps more work is needed in the film room? Clemson's offensive line also struggled, including another costly high snap by Ryan Norton, not to mention poor blocking on pass plays. In terms of bright spots, Wayne Gallman established career highs in carries (27) and yards (101) and was critical in sustaining the few scoring drives this unit was able to string together. Tyrone Crowder also saw significant playing time in the interior offensive line and looked fairly physical after a couple of early mistakes. Still, as good as this unit has been for so many years, it's obvious its not the same this season unless Deshaun Watson is on the field. In the meantime, the Tigers might set the all-time record for screen passes thrown with Watson on the bench.
If the offense was that bad, the defense was that good. Again. There were 12 total tackles for loss, including four sacks, and that happened against an offense that gave up just five sacks all season entering tonight's game. The Tigers also kept their second ACC opponent out of the end zone this season. In all, Syracuse mustered a season-low 170 yards of total offense. Robert Smith led the charge with 8 total tackles, including one for a loss and an interception, while Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Deshawn Williams made the Orange backfield their second home, routinely disrupting pass plays while dominating the line of scrimmage. And hey - it felt like freshman QB A.J. Long was running for his life all night long... because he was. Credit Brent Venables with another outstanding game plan, but credit his players for another high level performance from start to finish. Entering the month of November, this writer feels safe in saying Clemson's defense is truly elite. Let's hope it stays that way.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
In the span of the last 30 days, PK Ammon Lakip has transitioned from a big-time question, to a big-time answer. He was a perfect 3-for-3 Saturday night and all three kicks were huge. Many of Bradley Pinion's kickoffs were shorter than normal - but perhaps that was by design? The return game also continues to be lackluster, but Lakip's consistency was the biggest story of the night for the first three quarters, thus the "B" grad.
Dabo Swinney said two weeks ago ugly wins make him happy ... but even he would have to flinch at the thought of feeling good after a performance like this. Sure, the defense was lights out, but the offense remains a major work in progress without Watson on the field. While it is obvious the injuries are taking their toll, why not consider playing third-team QB Nick Schuessler if Stoudt struggles for multiple quarters at a time? Is it even a thought? Sure, a win is a win, but another offensive performance like that could result in a loss later in the schedule.
At the end of the day, the Tigers proved victorious over a scrappy Syracuse team that did everything in its power to make things interesting. Still, it was Clemson's 24th win in a row over unranked competition. Not bad, eh? Looking ahead, the Tigers get an open date before traveling to Wake Forest on the first Thursday in November. That's more time for Deshaun Watson's broken index finger to heal and hopefully more time for the offense to find its rhythm. While Wake Forest shouldn't present a big challenge, nothing has come easy for this team the last three games and no opponent should be overlooked, including the Deacs. The challenges later in the month can be put on the back burner in the meantime. The defense remains lights out. The offense is waiting for the light to come on. And hopefully by the end of the season, it all comes together to make us appreciate the journey that much more. We'll see.
GRADES: Where's the offense?
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