As the fans poured onto the field at the Carrier Dome following Syracuse’s 27-24 victory over Clemson, faith was restored that anything can happen. The Tigers were riding an 11-game win streak – longest in the nation at the FBS level. They had also won a school record 12 straight road games, including 18 out of 19 total road contests.
While it has taken time for the Orange offense to catch up with the team’s defense, the unit was dazzling in the first half offensively against the Tigers. Clemson was holding opponents to 264.3 yards of offense per game coming in, but the Orange racked up 270 yards in the first half alone. By the time it was over, Syracuse had 440 yards – more than anyone else has produced this season against Clemson.
So how did Syracuse do it?
For starters, the Orange managed to avoid a succession of errors. Syracuse had only one critical mistake – the Dontae Strickland fumble that was scooped up and returned 63 yards for a touchdown by Tanner Muse in the second quarter. That play tied the score at 14-14. But Syracuse got the ball back and methodically went 57 yards in 12 plays, eating up nearly five minutes. That drive resulted in a Cole Murphy field goal, and a 17-14 halftime lead.
The Syracuse offense, crafted by Dino Babers to favor speed, open space, and mismatches, used its running game to control everything. The Orange ran the ball a whopping 50 times against the Tigers. And while they averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, it took just enough pressure off quarterback Eric Dungey.
Clemson still got after Dungey, sacking him six times. But Dungey hung in there to complete 20 of 32 passes for 278 yards and tying his career high with three touchdowns. Dungey also led the Orange to 10 third down conversions and a 47.6 percent completion rate. Extending those drives made all the difference in Syracuse controlling the clock and scoring on five different offensive possessions.
Orange Key to Success
Statistically speaking, the Orange are a middle-of-the-road defense across the board in terms of yardage and scoring production allowed. But there is one key metric where Syracuse is proving to be among the best in the country – third down.
Syracuse entered the Clemson game ranked sixth nationally, with opponents converting just 24.7 percent of their attempts. They did even better against Clemson, holding the Tigers to only two conversions in 11 attempts – an 18.2 percent conversion rate. Opponents are now just 2-of-33 on third downs in the first half of Syracuse games played in the Carrier Dome. The Orange also held Clemson to less than half its normal rushing production, allowing just 113 yards on the ground.
While Syracuse didn’t force any Clemson turnovers, the Orange offense had the ball for a season-high 34 minutes and 52 seconds – a nearly 10-minute advantage in time of possession. Clemson is now 50-5 under Dabo Swinney when winning the turnover margin.
It was an unorthodox recipe for victory. But in doing so, the Syracuse football program posted its first win over an AP top ten program in fifteen years. It doesn’t get easier for the Orange, with back-to-back road games looming at Miami and Florida State. But after beating Clemson, the Dino Babers rebuilding project at Syracuse has taken flight. Two more wins in five games, and the Orange go bowling.