Written by Brian Pohl
Clemson SC- Despite losing starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the first half due to injury, the third-ranked Clemson Tigers were able to escape the upset with a 27-23 victory over the Syracuse Orange after a fourth-quarter takeover and last-minute touchdown by running back Travis Etienne.
A dog-fight to the finish, Clemson was given everything they could handle from Syracuse, who was looking to upset the Tigers in back to back seasons. The Orange led the Tigers for the majority of the contest, but late game heroics from key performers for Clemson removed the hopes of the upset in Death Valley.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talked about the win in his post-game press conference saying, “I’ve never been more proud of a team in all my life.” He continued, “I’ll never forget this one.”
The player of the game on offense for the Tigers was running back Travis Etienne, who rushed 27 times for 203-yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore seemingly took over the game in the fourth quarter, gashing an exhausted Syracuse defense to score the winning touchdown in the final minute of play. The Tigers desperately needed someone to step up, after true-freshman starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence left the game with a head injury in the first half.
Lawrence was making his first career start for Clemson after being announced to have taken over as the starter by coach Swinney this week following an impressive performance against Georgia Tech in their last game. Lawrence was impressive in the time he played, completing 10 of his 15 passes 93-yards, but left the game after an apparent head injury, and the Tigers had to turn to backup quarterback Chase Brice for the remainder of the game.
Brice did just enough to keep the Tigers in the game, avoiding any major turnovers while completing seven of his 13 passes for 83-yards. The freshman was mostly asked to give the ball to Etienne down the stretch but converted a major fourth-down completion in the fourth quarter that kept the comeback hopes alive enough for the running game to finish off the game.
Along with Etienne, Clemson was able to survive the upset thanks to a big performance from the defense, who never allowed the game to get out of hand after falling behind in the first half. The vaunted Clemson defense, led by their defensive line, allowed just 311-yards for the game and were able to ramp up pressure on Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey late to get the ball back in the hands of their offense with enough time to make the comeback.
Syracuse took a 16-7 lead into halftime, but the play of Etienne on offense and the suffocating defense late in the game allowed the Tigers to claw out from the deficit and escape with the win.
The defining play for the Tigers defense came late in the fourth quarter, as Xavier Thomas broke through the backfield untouched, blindsiding Eric Dungey for the sack to an eruption from the home crowd. After the game, coach Swinney said of the play, “You want to see what the eye of the Tiger looks like? Go run the tape on the Xavier Thomas sack.”
With the win, the Tigers move to 5-0 for the fourth consecutive season and remain on pace to return to the ACC Championship and compete for a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Next, the Tigers will travel to Wake Forest to take on the Demon Deacons next Saturday.