SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The Orange teased us again. It felt like this team would really make history in the timeline of this year’s college football season. The nation’s leader had their backs against the wall on more than a few occasions.
The Carrier Dome was the Loud House again, as fans proved they have not turned on this team in spite of six straight losses coming in. Clemson, like LSU, found out just hard it is to play in this building. Unfortunately, the result was the same as the ‘Cuse found themselves on the losing end of a classic, 37-27.
But, one would be remised if attention was not payed to all the individuals in uniform on Ernie Davis Legends Field today. On a day which honored the Syracuse greats who wore the fabled “44,” the officials in many ways wanted their performances to be as legendary on the gridiron. No game of course is entirely based on the calls made by the referees, because the talent on the field is what ultimately determines the result on the scoreboard.
However, for several weeks ACC officials have been on notice for their performance. The improbable victory for Miami over Duke speaks for itself, not to mention several other questionable calls that have been debated throughout the season in various games. The players and coaches on the Orange sideline will not speak their minds, but after this tough game they have to be disheartened by what could have been.
Amidst a series of common penalties, such as holding or delay of game, some egregious and mysterious fouls stand-out that ruined the momentum of the Orange during critical moments of the game. With SU down 28-14 in the 2nd Quarter, Zack Mahoney found Steve Ishmael deep for a sure fire touchdown in which he sadly fell to the turf just shy of the goal line. The Dome was in a state of hysteria thinking that every time Clemson took a shot at the Orange, they had a right cross in their arsenal to respond. But, with an invisible flag on the field the play was called back for an ineligible receiver down field.
Late in the 3rd quarter with the Orange down just a touchdown, 31-24, a penalty of illegal use of hands to face by an SU defensive line man led to an additional 15 yards and a first down for Clemson. Within less than five seconds another flag fell to the field, when Head Coach Scott Shafer reacted with fury to the original call, the Syracuse sideline was then flagged with another 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Thirty penalty yards in just seconds, in a game that was well played and hard fought by both teams, seems a shade fishy.
When alluding to some of the penalties in the game Head Coach Scott Shafer simply had wry smile and said, “I can’t comment on that I guess”?
Sometimes a simple phrase like that sums it up, because coaches know they can’t speak to the ridiculousness of game officiating. Especially, when that same 3rd quarter Clemson drive ended with an interception by Syracuse cornerback Juwan Dowels, and was followed up by another unsportsmanlike penalty for celebrating. Again, a referee tossing his flag literally in nanoseconds after Dowels fell to the ground with the ball.
Apparently it is inappropriate to be excited in a team sport as intense as football?! Syracuse seemed to be sitting shotgun next to Marty McFly taking the DeLorean back to 1994, when Oklahoma escaped with a 30-29 win at the Dome after some alleged excessive celebrating by the Orange in the end zone.
Despite these suspicious calls, it would be unfitting to ignore what happened between the lines, which was not accompanied by some yellow laundry. Zack Mahoney proved again that he is a big game quarterback and could push Eric Dungey (provided his health) the remainder of the season for reps. He had 86 yards on the ground to go with 80 yards in the air and two touchdowns with his feet.
George Morris II was as Kevin Durant would say, “the real MVP.” Morris was a stud rushing for 89 yards on 14 carries, including a long 51 yard gain that began SU’s opening drive in the 4th quarter. He also made some critical special teams tackles that limited the Clemson return game on both kick offs and punts.
“I think I did very well, but all the credit goes to the o-line,” Morris said. “The coaches made in-game adjustments that put me in the right positions to make plays on special teams.”
The final score was also irrelevant in the respect that the Syracuse defense really looked like “The Orange Crush” for a change. Cordell Hudson and Juwan Dowels combined for 15 tackles, each had a tackle for a loss and of course Dowels climbed the ladder for that great interception. These players brought respect back to the SU secondary which has been much maligned all season. Captain Zaire Franklin and Ron Thompson also joined forces for 13 tackles, as the linebacker core of the ‘Cuse defense let the nation know they were coming for the number one team in the land.
Progress was again made on both sides of ball for the Orange, which was more evident earlier in the season. The competitive fire and confidence was smeared all over their faces, even during the post-game press conference. They understand how to become better both individually and as a unit. The grove is growing with so many fresh oranges ripening just as the season comes to a close.
“I thought the first drive went great, obviously not with the fumble but the first drive we had,” said Mahoney. “But comparatively against LSU I was short [with my throws], but today I was a lot better with my decisions just unfortunately I missed a couple big shots.”
The evolution of this year’s team has been in flux from day one, but it is disheartening to see the progress halted by yellow handkerchiefs and whistles blown. This game may have ended in the way it was predicted with the Tigers victorious, but we will never know what might have been with the manipulation of the “Big Mo.”