In a season filled with nail-biters and close calls, Clemson finally had a drama-free game on Saturday.
At least as far as the scoreboard goes.
The Tigers got a scare when star quarterback Deshaun Watson left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, but otherwise rolled Syracuse 54-0 at Death Valley.
Watson took a hit on his throwing shoulder late in the first half with the Tigers leading 23-0. He stayed in the game for one play and short-hopped his intended target before removing himself. Watson went to the locker room and didn’t play in the second half, but was available, according to Clemson. He wasn’t needed.
“It was a statement game of what we’re capable of doing when we take care of the ball,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said.
Watson said after the game he could’ve returned if needed and he will be fine moving forward.
“It doesn’t even hurt. I’ll be ready to go Monday,” he said.
No matter who was at quarterback for Clemson, the Tigers moved the ball at will.
Watson, Nick Schuessler, Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel combined to go 27-for-38 passing for 370 yards with four touchdowns and no picks.
Watson and Schuessler led the way with Watson going 13-for-16 for 169 yards and Schuessler completing 11 of 17 passes for 177 yards. Both quarterbacks threw a pair of touchdown passes. It marked the first time in school history two Clemson quarterbacks have thrown for at least 160 yards in the same game.
The Tigers finished with 565 yards of total offense while playing a number of backups. Four quarterbacks threw passes, nine players had rushing attempts and nine receivers caught passes.
“That’s the standard. It doesn’t matter if you’re the first team or the third team,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Deon Cain continued to make big plays in the passing game, hauling in five balls for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Williams caught six passes for 106 yards and a score and Artavis Scott caught seven passes for 45 yards with a touchdown.
Wayne Gallman led the rushing attack with 10 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Clemson’s defense was dominant. The Tigers had no problem with the Syracuse hurry-up offense, holding the Orange to 277 total yards.
“To keep them out of the end zone is a testament to our guys and their preparation,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Great focus and really played with great passion and attitude. I loved how we attacked them from the get go. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Clemson knocked Syracuse starting quarterback Eric Dungey out of the game in the first quarter, and backup Austin Wilson struggled, going 17-for-27 for 116 yards with two interceptions. Dungey threw an interception before leaving the game.
Cordrea Tankersley, Ryan Carter and Tanner Muse recorded interceptions for Clemson, with Muse returning his 64 yards for a score. It marked the longest interception returned for a touchdown by the Tigers since 2012.
Star of the game: Cain: The sophomore entered the game leading Clemson in yards per catch at 19.1 and increased that number with five grabs for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Play of the game: Clemson took over at its own 5-yard line early in the second quarter leading 10-0 and was in the end zone two plays later. After a Wayne Gallman 30-yard run, Watson found Cain down the left sideline for a 65-yard touchdown.
Stat of the game: 0: The shutout by the Clemson defense against Syracuse marked the first time a Dino Babers team has been shut out.
Defense was dominant: Clemson’s defense was in control from the start. At no point was Syracuse close to finding a rhythm and challenging the Tigers.
Military Appreciation Day: The Tigers had a powerful halftime show and pregame flyover as part of the outstanding tribute.
Syracuse has a ways to go: The Orange is making progress under Babers but athletically, there’s a huge difference between the teams. Even Clemson’s backups were dominant.
Who: Clemson vs. Pittsburgh
When: Nov. 12, 3:30 p.m.