First-year Syracuse head coach Dino Babers indicated earlier this week he didn’t think his Orange stood much of a chance of waltzing into Death Valley East and coming out with a Tiger tail.
Boy, was he right.
No. 2 Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) flattened an over-matched Syracuse squad 54-0, extending its regular-season winning streak to 24 games, its ACC winning streak to 15 and its streak over unranked opponents to 44.
The game was truly never in doubt. The registered a field goal on their first possession and later returned an interception of Syracuse (4-5, 2-3 ACC) quarterback Eric Dungey 17 yards to the Orange 15. Three plays and a 1-yard Deshaun Watson run later and Clemson had a 10-0 cushion.
That touchdown was the beginning of an avalanche where the Tigers ended four straight drives with touchdowns — the last three of which came on drives of 95, 89 and 86 yards. Watson fired two touchdown passes and appeared primed for a third before, in truly the only dark moment of the day for Clemson, he left the game with pain in his right, throwing shoulder. Back-up Nick Schuessler closed the drive with a touchdown pass of his own, giving the Tigers a 30-0 lead just before the half, while Watson was taken to the locker room.
Clemson’s franchise quarterback did not return, but the Tigers said he could have if the game had been, you know, a game.
He finished the day hitting 13-of-16 passing for 169 yards and two touchdowns while rushing seven times for 39 yards and a score.
Playing most of the second half before he himself was pulled, Schuessler connected on 11-of-17 passes for 177 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Clemson opened the second half by pushing the score to 37-0 on a 5-yard Wayne Gallman (10 carries, 63 yards) rush, then added another score on an 18-yard Deon Cain reception from Schuessler. The Tigers’ final touchdown came on a Syracuse pass that bounced off a number of players’ lower extremities before defender Tanner Muse grabbed the pigskin and raced 64 yards with a touchdown at the 7:40 mark of the fourth quarter.
Dungey started the game and completed 6-of-9 throws for 48 yards and an interception before leaving with an injury of his own. Austin Wilson played the majority of the remainder and hit 17-of-27 passes for 116 yards and two interceptions.
Syracuse needs to beat two of NC State, Florida State and Pittsburgh to reach a bowl game in Babers’s first season. Clemson, meanwhile, has loftier goals. The Tigers are a win away from clinching their second straight ACC Championship appearance and are three wins away from booking back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.