Game 544: Syracuse springs upset on No. 2 Clemson, 27-24
Syracuse, NY – In front of a pumped-up, energized Family Weekend crowd of 42,475 adorned in blue and orange in the Carrier Dome, the Syracuse Orange (4-3,2-1) got off to a fast start offensively, and its defense stepped up against No. 2 Clemson (6-1,4-1) to pull off the biggest upset to date of the 2017 season, 27-24. QB Eric Dungey (20 for 32, 278 yards, 3 TDs) spread the ball among seven different receivers starting the offense on a very quick no-huddle strategy to keep the vaunted Clemson defense off balance to get out to an early lead and build confidence. DE Alton Robinson made several key stops including one before halftime which knocked starting Clemson QB Kelly Bryant out of the game for good. For Collegefootballfan.com, our Game 544 goes down as our biggest upset in our history seeing an undefeated No. 2 team knocked from that high a position by an unranked team.
The two ACC Atlantic foes went toe to toe with the Tigers catching up to the Orange four times during the course of this game. Tied 24-24 entering the final period, Cole Murphy’s 30-yard FG provided the home team the lead with 9:41 remaining. Defense, good clock management, and errant special team plays by the defending national champions helped the Orange seal the final score until time expired. Syracuse has momentum going forward. Clemson will have to determine if and when Kelly Bryant will be available to come back any time soon.
Orange off to a quick start
On SU’s first possession, Dungey fired to Dontae Strickland coming out of the backfield in the right flat. He rolled over an attempted body tackle keeping his balance over the defender and raced 23 yards for the Orange’s first lead. The Domers and the sideline exploded! The refs flagged the home team for excessive celebration. Considering this was Syracuse against No. 2 and undefeated 2017 champ Clemson, what’s excessive? On the penalized kick from the 20, Clemson started from its 38 with decent field position. They wasted little time to tie up the score with a 62-yard drive finished off by Tavien Feaster’s 37-yard run. A sign of things to come, a 34-yard FG attempt by Tiger Alex Spence hooked wide left. Still fired up and feeding off the very energetic crowd, Dungey connected with WR Ervin Philips streaking right down the middle for a 66-yard catch and run to go up, 14-7, in Game 544.
Into the second frame, Will Spiers’ punt put the Orange back at their six. Following a supposed touchdown called back for offensive pass interference, Strickland’s extra effort on the next play resulted in a fumble that bounced up and was cleanly fielded by SS Tanner Muse who returned it 66 yards to even the score. With a new start aided by an unsportsmanlike by Muse, Syracuse proved that it would still move the ball against the heralded Tiger defense working down to the one.
Despite calling time-out, Dungey hobbled off the field, but the officials rule that he had to sit out a play. For third down, Zack Mahoney subbed and got dropped for a 3-yard loss. HC Dino Babers called on Murphy to convert a 21-yard FG to retake the lead with 3:49 left in the first half. The teams exchanged punts before the next Clemson possession. Tony, a Navy vet and an SU fan who sat next to me in section 125, noted that the Orange finally applied constant pressure on Kelly Bryant (12-17, 116 yards). No sooner spoken when Robinson caught up with him and slung him hard to the surface. Already hobbled, this looked worse as he lay still. After a few minutes, he was able to walk off with help but never returned. Diagnosis reported – concussion. Freshman Zerrick Cooper replaced him before the half was over with ‘Cuse up by three.
Road trip musings
All the way up Interstate 81 during my three-plus hour road trip, I pondered this upset for game 544. Baber’s offense started clicking the past few weeks, and historically in his second years at both Eastern Illinois and at Bowling Green, his teams won 12 and 10 games respectively. At 3-3, SU seemed poised to start improving. Dungey threw for over 300 yards in three of the six previous games. Clemson hadn’t overwhelmed any opponents the last few weeks. The big question coming in was how SU would play defense. The other questions I had heading up were where was I going to park and what did I want to eat for dinner. I found a lot for $10 on Harrison Street that was being filled as employees were leaving to go home. After a beer in the lot and a walk up the hill toward the Dome, I found the pre-game rally with the Syracuse Marching Band in front of the campus chapel. I had a quick burger to tie me over until after the game when I planned to go to a Syracuse mainstay for dinner introduced to me years ago by Bernie Olszyk when we went to games when his daughter Heather went there. I decided to have a late dinner at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q to top off game 544 this evening.
Two more ties
Cooper moved the Tigers into field goal position on their second possession of the third period. Spence put up a 30-yarder to tie the game up 17-all. Dungey got his offense going during the next Orange possession. He ran out of the pocket 45 yards to the CU 35. Two plays later, WR Steve Ishmael grabbed Dungey’s toss for a 30-yard score to go back up. SU’s next kick went out of bounds to start Clemson from their 35. Within a minute of ‘Cuses’s TD, Frosh Travis Etienne raced 48 yards around the right flank to knot the score for the fourth time. With 6:26 left in the third quarter of game 544, it seemed that time remained for a lot more nip and tuck scoring. With Spence’s 38-yard attempt going wide left again late in the period, Clemson failed to take its first lead this time.
Syracuse started its next drive from the 21 before the third period ended. Five minutes and19 seconds into the final period, Murphy scored three with a 30-yarder to regain the lead again for SU. The Orange defense forced a Clemson punt at their 41. Clemson HC Dabo Swinney called for a fake punt, and Spence’s long pass attempt down the right side fell short in front of his diving intended receiver. With six minutes left to play, Syracuse took over on their 41. The Tigers had two time-outs remaining. However, the Orange converted third downs into first downs three times effectively eating up the clock. Strickland picked up three on a third and two from their 49. On third and 11 at the Clemson 49, Dungey connected with Ishmael for 13. At the 34 on third and eight, Dungey ran for eight. With 1:37 left and Clemson out of time-outs, the crowd roared anticipating the reality of the upset as Syracuse went to the victory formation on the final three snaps. Syracuse students and fans stormed the field to join their team in celebration knocking off No. 2 Clemson not only on game 544 for CFF.com, but the 1300th game in the annals of Syracuse football history. A big day for the Orange in Game 1300 on Friday the 13th. The luck of the Orange?
Syracuse travels next week to play No. 8 Miami (5-0, 3-0) fresh off a 25-24 win over Georgia Tech. Can they do it again? Clemson, now No. 7, takes a week off to recover and possibly get Zerrick Cooper ready for his first start. They will host Georgia Tech the following week. Collegefootballfan.com ventured to Dinosaur Bar-B-Q for ribs, chicken, and Allagash beer and to listen to a local band perform. When the lead singer inquired among some SU fans who had won the game, he responded with a jerk of his head, “We won?” The locals didn’t expect it, probably why the game was not sold out. That could change over the next few years as Babers rebuilds this storied program.
Next morning, I would be driving about an hour away to our 545th game in nearby Hamilton to attend our first game ever at Andrew Kerr Stadium near the pristine and stately campus of Colgate University. The Red Raiders (2-4, 0-1) would be hosting the Fordham Rams (1-5, 0-1) in a game we anticipated as a key game with some star power to win the Patriot League before the season. It looked good on paper before the season. Disappointed with the records of both schools now, we still planned to go as this would be our first game ever at a school we saw play back in our first college football gamer ever back in 1966. We felt an obligation to do this for a long time. Can’t be sure when we’ll be back. This Friday-Saturday combo set us up perfectly, especially with the big upset! Look for our Game 545 review by Tuesday morning.