The High Five
Orange Continue to Force Turnovers: The Syracuse defense forced four turnovers Saturday night in the form of two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. They have now forced 17 on the season through eight games, tied for 16th in the country.
Playing in the Backfield: Not only did Syracuse force four turnovers, but their defense was relentless in making plays behind the line of scrimmage. They had seven tackles for loss, one sack and countless other quarterback hurries and hits. In fact, on the two Clemson interceptions, Syracuse hit quarterback Cole Stoudt as he was throwing.
Limiting Penalties: Playing in an environment like Death Valley and given how penalty prone Syracuse has been this season, it was easy to expect another mistaken laden day for the Orange offense. While they struggled mightily in other areas, they limited penalties with the fewest number and fewest yards of the season with just five infractions for 30-yards.
Secondary Achievement: The Syracuse secondary, much maligned all season, put together perhaps its best performance of the year. Cole Stoudt was not very good on Saturday, but that was in part because of the Orange’s defensive efforts. Brandon Reddish was very good with an interception and solid coverage on big play receiver Mike Williams all night. He did drop an interception in the second half, however.
Special Teams: The Syracuse kick coverage units were solid again, limiting Clemson to just 22-yards per return on kickoffs and 1.5-yards per punt return. Riley Dixon was strong again, with nine punts for over a 45-yard per kick average. The Syracuse kick return game showed a little more signs of life as well behind Ervin Philips.
The Low Five
Offensive Offense: The numbers are brutal. Only 170-yards of total offense. Less than three yards per play on the night. Three turnovers. No touchdowns. It was Syracuse’s worst offensive performance of the season. At some point, A.J. Long was going to look like a freshman. He did against Clemson.
Red Zone Vacancy: Syracuse has had their red zone problems this season, ranking near the bottom of the nation in touchdown percentage. If the Orange were going to pull off an upset, they would have to improve that number. Syracuse’s offense struggled so much on Saturday, they never had that chance as they failed to get beyond the Clemson 20-yard line even one time.
Taking Advantage of Turnovers: As previously mentioned, Syracuse forced four turnovers against Clemson. They turned two of those into six points, but could not do anything with the other two. The worst was after an interception that put Syracuse in Clemson territory to start the drive with a 6-3 lead, Long turned it right back over with an interception where he did not see Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony. The Orange never recovered.
Replay Reviews: Syracuse got the short end of the stick on two replay reviews in the game. The first was on Long’s initial interception, where it looked like Clemson corner Robert Smith made a diving attempt and the ball appeared to move against the ground. The officials determined there was not conclusive video evidence and the play stood as an interception. In the second half, Prince-Tyson Gulley was ruled down by contact, but a replay showed it may have been a fumble. It was very close, but officials determined the ball did indeed come out of his grasp prior to his knee hitting the ground. They may have both been the right call, but Syracuse could not catch a break in this area.
Boo Birds: Syracuse had several players go down with injuries in the game. Most were minor ailments and the players came back later in the game. Every time a Syracuse player went down, the Clemson fans booed mercilessly. From their standpoint, Syracuse was doing this on purpose to slow down their tempo. But it’s not like Clemson is Oregon in terms of offensive pace. Nor does Syracuse have a reputation of utilizing that strategy. It is not in Scott Shafer’s DNA to play football like that. He is all about integrity of the game and winning man against man. That’s not how Shafer is wired or runs his program. So to have the boos come out when players were hurt was disappointing.