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  • Clemson's rise to college football's elite can be attributed to a few factors, but the most surprising is the rapid decline of the rest of the ACC.
By Scooby Axson
September 14, 2019

Clemson’s fairly recent, yet surprising rise to the top of the ACC and the national rankings can be attributed to a number of things: great coaching, even better recruiting and perhaps the most stunning, the rest of the conference regressing rapidly. That decline is so steep that seven wins in the Coastal Division could earn you a spot in the conference title game, where a beatdown is most likely the inevitable outcome.

The Tigers haven’t cared who they face in Charlotte, as four different Coastal Division winners in each of the last four years have gone down in defeat, while the victors take their rightful place in the College Football Playoff—the only saving grace for a conference that will continue to ride its one dominant team until the rest of the league catches up.

One pest of Clemson’s lately had been Syracuse, a team that came close to springing an upset last year before faltering in the final minute and beat Clemson in 2017 at the Dome.

This year’s version had all the makings of one the most important games in Orange history, except Syracuse made that point moot after it was drilled 63-20 last week at Maryland.

Still, the first sellout in two decades at Syracuse’s on-campus stadium had hopes high, but they were not to be as the Orange wasted golden opportunities in the red zone and Clemson went on to win in a 41–6 rout, rolling up 612 yards of offense.

It was the 12th time the Orange has faced the top-ranked team in the AP Poll and now are 1–11 in those games.

Syracuse found itself lucky to only be down 17–6 going into the locker room after a litany of penalties, sacks and a lack of a running game.

Clemson, which won its 18th straight game, opened the scoring on its second possession, when Trevor Lawrence found Amari Rodgers open across the middle for a 16-yard touchdown catch.

The Tigers hit pay dirt again minutes later when Lawrence went untouched on a read option for a one-yard score.

Syracuse’s only points in the first 30 minutes came from All-American kicker Andre Szmyt, who hit from 29 and 23 yards, and they highlight the night’s failures once it got inside the red zone.

The Orange even tried in vain to run the ball early and when they didn’t find success, it left Tiger defenders licking their chops every time Tommy DeVito dropped back to pass. 

Syracuse finished with 187 total yards, with only 15 yards rushing and went 4–19 on third down.

DeVito was sacked eight times. When he wasn’t swallowed up by a member of Clemson’s front seven, he was forced to escape the pocket, leading to throws out of bounds or into coverage where his receivers couldn’t make plays.

Syracuse also fell behind in the down and distance game by being penalized seven times for 65 yards.

The turning point came early in the third quarter.

Lawrence, who went 22 for 39 for a career-high 395 yards and three touchdowns, attempted a back-shoulder throw but the ball was tipped and intercepted by Christopher Fredrick, who returned it to the Clemson nine-yard line.

On the very next play, DeVito was again flushed out of the pocket because of shoddy pass protection, but instead of throwing the ball out of bounds, he was picked off by Mario Goodrich.

Three plays later, Lawrence threw a simple route to the right and found Rodgers, who broke two tackles and was off to the races on an 87-yard touchdown, giving Clemson a 24–6 lead.

Lawrence handed Syracuse another chance to slice into the lead when he was intercepted again by Trill Williams, who returned it to the three-yard line.

But Syracuse’s fourth trip to the red zone came up empty handed when on fourth down, DeVito was stopped short of the goal line.

The competitive phase of the game was complete when Lawrence found Frank Ladson in the end zone from seven yards out with 10 minutes left in the fourth.

Syracuse has plenty of opportunity to get back on track after a sluggish start to the season. The Orange welcome Western Michigan and Holy Cross, then have a week off before they continue their ACC slate on the road at NC State on Oct. 10.

Saturday night was a clear example of what teams shouldn’t do if they happen to have chances to put points on the board against Clemson. The Tigers’ three games haven’t been close and still they haven’t played a complete game, at least on the offensive side of the ball. There isn’t a team remaining on Clemson’s schedule that presents any sort of a challenge, so the Tigers can waltz right into the postseason, barring significant injuries, without much worry.

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