No. 2 Clemson suffered its first loss of the season after an ill-advised fake punt helped lead to Syracuse burning the final six minutes of the fourth quarter in a 27-24 upset win over the Tigers.
Clemson had the ball at the Syracuse 41 facing a fourth and six with just over six minutes left. As punter Will Spiers rolled to his right, he threw a long pass downfield to safety Tanner Muse … who was not open.
The pass fell incomplete.
After Spiers got to the sideline, it was fair to wonder if he had the option of taking the fake if it was available or punting if it was covered based on the reaction of coach Dabo Swinney.
The Tigers never led Friday night in a game where they also lost starting quarterback Kelly Bryant, who injured his left ankle last week. Bryant never looked fully healthy and had to leave the game in the second quarter because of what Swinney said was a concussion. Bryant went limp after his helmet hit the turf as he was swung to the ground on a tackle late in the second quarter.
Bryant was replaced by Zerrick Cooper in the second half and the Tigers tied the game at 24-24 thanks to a 52-yard touchdown run by running back Travis Etienne, a freshman who’s quickly becoming one of the biggest big-play threats in the country.
But the Clemson defense was off all evening and couldn’t get the offense the ball back for one last time. While the defense racked up sacks of Syracuse QB Eric Dungey, it also let him run free at times too. Dungey officially had 61 rushing yards (minus sacks) but busted off a 45-yard run. And, most importantly, converted a QB draw on third and eight inside of the final two minutes to seal the game.
Dungey finished the game 20-32 passing for 278 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s the first time Syracuse has beaten a team ranked in the top two since 1984 and just the third time the Orange have beaten the defending national champions.
The loss will certainly drop Clemson out of the top five in the AP poll on Sunday. But the Tigers survived a November loss to Pitt a year ago and still made the College Football Playoff.
Clemson’s playoff hopes might have taken a slight hit but are otherwise still largely intact, especially if Bryant isn’t seriously injured. The Tigers are off in Week 8 before playing Georgia Tech in Week 9.
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