Schafer: Syracuse’s growth shows despite loss at Clemson

first_img Comments CLEMSON, S.C.— After Syracuse’s 27-23 loss at Clemson, head coach Dino Babers didn’t say his team earned respect. He didn’t say that losing by four points to a team oddsmakers had favored by 25 proved anything. They don’t want superficial accolades. They want to win.“If we want to be winners, we can’t stay on this track,” Babers said.  “2016, 2017, (if) we want 2018 to be different, then we need to act differently.”Babers may be right. In the grand scheme of Syracuse’s record, Saturday goes down as a loss. Syracuse is 4-1. There is no asterisk next to the loss for a valiant effort. But that doesn’t mean the Orange didn’t prove something.In 2018, Syracuse has bucked the trend of its first two years under Babers. The Orange started 4-0 for the first time since 1991. They beat Florida State for the second time in program history. The defense has forced more turnovers than it did in all of 2017. Syracuse received AP votes. And on Saturday in Death Valley, where Syracuse was less than a quarter away from defeating a top three team on the road, for the first time ever, SU once again didn’t appear like past teams.“Just looking around the locker room,” said four-year starting quarterback Eric Dungey, “It’s different.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textEarly in the fourth quarter, Dungey swung his arms at the screaming Syracuse fans in one corner of Memorial Stadium. The rest of the more than 80,000 onlookers stood silent, pondering how Syracuse, a team which had won four games each of the last two seasons, could be leading by 10 in the game’s final frame.Moments earlier Dungey capped off a four-play, 10-yard drive with a rushing touchdown in which he leapt for the goal line, came down unsuccessfully and then burst through on a second effort for one of his two rushing touchdowns.The last time Syracuse played Clemson in Death Valley in 2016, the Orange lost 54-0, and Dungey didn’t finish the first half.“At the end of the day we should have some confidence moving forward,” Dungey said. “Especially if we can come down here to Death Valley, one of the toughest places to play in the nation, against one of the toughest teams, and you know we were right there with them today.”More than 80,000 fans were at Memorial Stadium on Saturday to see Clemson sneak by Syracuse. Paul Schlesinger | Staff PhotographerAgainst Clemson in 2016, the Orange didn’t cause a turnover. On Saturday, the Orange, which has turned the ball over on opponents at an unprecedented pace this season, forced three. One came just before Dungey’s second touchdown — a muffed punt from Amari Rodgers. Another came from a Trill Williams interception, and the third happened early in the game off a bobbled read option, which led to an SU field goal.Syracuse had more sacks against Clemson (4) than it averaged per game (3.25) through the first four games of the year. First it was Chris Slayton, who used a simple power push at his opposition’s shoulder to create the separation needed to drop Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.Later the pressure led Lawrence to scramble out of the pocket, where he was tripped by defensive linemen Josh Black and finished off by safety Evan Foster. Lawrence wouldn’t return from that hit. Instead, Chase Brice came in and on his second pass, felt the same pressure Lawrence had. On Brice’s second drop back, Kendall Coleman faked inside, before beating the left tackle outside and getting to the redshirt freshman quarterback.The last time Syracuse played at Death Valley, it didn’t record a sack.“This is just a better group than we had when we came down here the last time, when it comes to a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint,” Coleman said. “Probably a major part of that is the fact that we’ve playing together for so long, and we have that trust built into each other now.”Talia Trackim | Senior Design EditorWilliams’ interception, along with six solo tackles — more than one of which came along the line of scrimmage — from safety Andre Cisco, showed growth for the young secondary. On offense, Taj Harris caught three balls for 66 yards, including a 51-yard bomb where the freshman receiver bobbled the ball and nearly dropped it, before reeling it in.“Yeah, I feel like our freshman class is very ready to play,” Harris said. “You can see it since camp, all through summer we grinded and grinded and grinded, and we’re just waiting for our numbers to get called, really.”Syracuse entered the game averaging 1.75 sacks allowed per game. Against a Tiger group which features four potential first-round draft picks and averages four sacks per game, the Orange allowed one. And that sack didn’t come until Syracuse’s final drive with under a minute remaining.While none of the Tigers’ four preseason All-ACC defensive linemen registered a sack — leading to 250 yards passing on 26-41 throwing for Dungey — all but one of the linemen was in on a tackle for a loss as the Orange rushed for 68 yards. Clemson rushed for 293.And that’s what seemed to stick with SU’s players after the game. Redshirt senior offensive tackle Koda Martin acknowledged the offensive line had good moments. But the times they couldn’t stay on blocks bothered him more. Like his father-in-law, Martin preached focusing on Syracuse’s next game and having a “1-0 mentality.”And that’s fair. Syracuse, as a team, doesn’t have to celebrate a loss. It shouldn’t. In a narrow lens, this game is just another demerit to the season’s record.But take a step back. For the first time since 1991, SU’s first loss of the year came more than a third of the way into its season. Babers admitted after the game that his team is “moving in the right direction.” And even though Syracuse lost, season-long trends continued.That’s promising.Josh Schafer is the sports editor for The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at jlschafer@syr.edu or @Schafer_44. Published on September 29, 2018 at 7:00 pmcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img