Grading how the Clemson Tigers performed in their 27-24 loss at the Syracuse Orange on Friday:
Kelly Bryant played as well as could be expected in the first half, considering his ankle was clearly less than 100 percent. Bryant was 12-for-17 passing for 116 yards before leaving the game late in the second quarter with a concussion. Zerrick Cooper did a nice job passing in the second half, going 10-for-14 for 88 yards, but he also took three sacks and held onto the ball too long at times.
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Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice combined to rush 15 times for 137 yards, but for whatever reason Clemson’s running backs were not a big part of the game plan. Etienne had a 52-yard touchdown run and Feaster broke a 37-yard touchdown run, but overall the two did not get many opportunities.
Hunter Renfrow and Deon Cain carried the load, finishing with 12 of Clemson’s 22 receptions and 119 of Clemson’s 204 yards. Renfrow in particular made a couple of incredible grabs as he continues to catch everything thrown his way.
Milan Richard had one of the best games of his career with three catches for 41 yards, including a 24-yard grab, which was Clemson’s longest pass play of the night.
Clemson allowed four sacks and was held to 113 rushing yards. The Tigers struggled at times with Syracuse’s blitz schemes.
Clemson’s defensive front owned the line of scrimmage for much of the game. The Tigers finished with nine tackles for loss and six sacks, with the defensive line posting 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. But the unit also made a few costly mistakes, most notably Austin Bryant roughing the passer.
Clemson’s top two leading tacklers were linebackers in Kendall Joseph, who had 12, and Dorian O’Daniel, who finished with 10. The Tigers did a nice job against Syracuse’s running game, holding the Orange to 3.2 yards per carry, and the linebackers were a big reason why.
Syracuse passed for 278 yards and three scores as the Tigers had a few busts in the secondary. Orange receivers Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips got the better of Clemson’s defensive backs, combining for 10 catches, 167 yards and a pair of scores. Clemson’s secondary had to play a lot of guys as it suffered injuries during the game, but overall it was a disappointing night for the unit.
Clemson kicker Alex Spence missed two short field goals in a three-point loss, and punter Will Spiers threw a fake punt pass that was incomplete in the fourth quarter. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the ball was only supposed to be thrown if the receiver was wide open, but he was not and the pass was still thrown. Syracuse was given great field position and was able to run out the clock.
Syracuse is making progress under Dino Babers and is a much improved team, but that was still not a game the Tigers should have lost. Clemson committed 11 penalties for 119 yards, made mental mistakes throughout and appeared unprepared to play and deserved to lose the game.