The Clemson defense came into Saturday night’s matchup against Syracuse as one of the nation’s best. Their front seven was touted as the most talented that the Orange have faced in the last few years. So naturally a Syracuse offense that has had its fair share of struggles this season was going to have a difficult task in front of them if they hoped to pull off an upset.
One thing that was paramount was limiting mistakes, taking care of the football and taking advantage of key opportunities that present themselves. Syracuse did none of those things in their worst offensive performance of the season.
Syracuse only amassed 170 total yards of offense, including 82 through the air and 88 on the ground. Even worse was averaging 2.6-yards per rush and 2.7-yards per play overall.
Freshman quarterback A.J. Long, who had been so impressive in his first two games of the season, struggled mightily in this one. The Clemson pass rush was relentless throughout, disrupting his rhythm and timing. He finished 12-27 passing with two interceptions.
The more frustrating of the two picks was in the third quarter. Syracuse had a 6-3 lead and had just intercepted Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt for the second time. They started the subsequent drive at the Tigers 42-yard line with a chance to score and put even more pressure on the favored opposition.
Instead, Long rolled to his right and tried to float a pass to Jarrod West. He did not see linebacker Stephone Anthony in his path, and Anthony snatched the ball out of the air to give Clemson the ball right back. The Tigers would score 13-points on their next three possessions to put the game away.
It wasn’t all Long’s fault, however. The offensive line broke down several times, though they did hold up well on occasion. Long’s weapons could not get open downfield as the Clemson secondary blanketed the Orange playmakers. They made a point to take away Steve Ishmael, who did not have a catch for the first time in his career.
Even when given great field position, as the offense had late in the first half after a Dyshawn Davis fumble recovery, they could not move the ball. Starting on the Clemson 25, Syracuse went backwards, netting -6 yards on the drive. They did end up with a field goal, however, but lost a golden opportunity to punch the ball into the end zone.
The ground attack also did not help Long out. While Prince-Tyson Gulley did run for 77-yards, there were far too many negative or short yardage gains. Gulley also turned it over on a fumble, which stalled another Syracuse drive. Syracuse only averaged 2.6 yards per carry on the night.
The Orange will not face a defense this talented and athletic the rest of the season. While that bodes well, the offense has to figure out its issues to help the defense out. With only four games left on the schedule, and needed wins in three of them to become bowl eligible, time is running out.