This weekend Clemson took a trip to Syracuse, New York for its third ACC matchup of the year. After starting 0-2 in conference play, the Tigers got their first win against the Orange 31-14. This first ACC win of the season was also Dabo Swinney’s 100th regular season conference victory. It was a game that Clemson looked very good in. They controlled the full game against a good and formerly undefeated Syracuse football team. There are many good things the Tigers should be able to take from this game and build on throughout the season.
Winning The Turnover Battle
For another week the turnover battle proved to be crucial in the outcome of the game. Clemson has struggled with turning the ball over this season. It is what cost them the first two conference games against Duke and Florida State. This week Clemson did a much better job protecting the ball. There was one fumble by Jake Briningstool on a perfectly formed hard tackle by the Syracuse defender that was picked up by the Orange. There were no other miscues by the offense on the day, but the defense helped out by taking the ball away themselves. The Tiger defense recovered two fumbles and caught an interception. That gave Clemson the 3-1 advantage in the turnover margin. This translated directly to the scoreboard too as the Tigers scored 21 points off of turnovers and Syracuse had seven.
Defense Turns It Up
As seen in the turnover margin, the Tiger defense made plays all game long. The front seven especially had a great day. It started with a Justin Mascoll big hit on Garrett Shrader that caused a fumble the Tigers recovered. That would not be the only time Mascoll met Shrader as he also assisted on a sack in the game. Throughout the day the front seven made Shrader feel the pressure. Shrader tried his best to keep the Orange in it finishing with 15 of 29 passes completed for 181 yards and two touchdowns but also threw an interception. Additionally, he rushed 15 times for only 24 yards and was sacked five times.
Six different Clemson defenders either got a sack or assisted on a sack. Mascoll, Barett Carter, Jeremiah Trotter Jr, Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro, and TJ Parker all were able to get Shrader. Trotter, Carter, and Parker each filled the stat sheet. On the day Trotter and Carter combined for 14 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, one interception, and one pass breakup. This is the kind of dominating performance Clemson fans, as well as scouts and experts, have been waiting for from the linebacking group. Parker is a freshman player who is playing like a veteran in the early part of the season. In this game, he totaled five tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for loss. Overall, the Clemson defense gave up only 100 rushing yards.
This defense has been the highlight of the season thus far for Clemson. Now they seem to be taking the next steps in being a truly great defense. They aren’t just stopping the offense from scoring but also creating turnovers and putting opponents behind the sticks early.
Offense Keeps Improving
Over the last few weeks, the offense has taken some strides to get better. It has not been perfect at all just yet but the improvements are there. The most obvious upswing is Cade Klubnik’s play. Week by week Klubnik has been raising his level of play. There are still mistakes but he shows each week he is learning from them. One thing that really sticks out is how much more willing he is to use his legs to create plays. Klubnik committed to Clemson as the top dual-threat quarterback in his class and he is finally showing that running ability again. Instead of trying to force throws he is recognizing when he should just go make a play himself.
Klubnik finished the day completing 23 of 37 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns. His improvement has been instrumental in the offense getting better overall. The offensive playbook seems to be opening up more and the explosive plays are starting to happen. They are coming both in the passing game as well as the running game. There was both a rushing and passing touchdown of more than 30 yards in the game. Beaux Collins caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Klubnik in the second quarter putting the Tigers up two scores before the half. Phil Mafah had a touchdown run of 32 yards for the final score of the game in the fourth quarter.
These weren’t the only big plays though, as on the day Klubnik completed seven passes of 15-plus yards. One of these passes was to the freshman wide receiver Tyler Brown. Over the past couple of weeks, Brown has really become a key piece of the Clemson offense. This week he got his first career 150-plus yard game. Brown caught eight passes this week for 151 yards. He is showing he’s going to be a big-time player for the Tigers over the next couple of years.
What This Win Means
After losing the first two ACC games of the season the Tigers got their first conference win of the season. This should help calm some nerves within the program and fanbase a bit from being in such an unusual position. Clemson showed they have improved since week one with this performance. The offense was the best it has been so far this year and the defense looked like what was expected coming into the season. The most important thing though is they both took care of the football and took the ball away. Winning the turnover battle will always be important for this team. When Clemson doesn’t beat themselves, they are a very hard team to win against. If Clemson can continue to build on what they did this week there is still a chance for them to do some special things this year.