No Trevor Lawrence, no problem. Travis Etienne carries Tigers to comeback win


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Etienne carries the ball for the touchdown
Etienne carries the ball for the touchdown

CLEMSON – No Trevor Lawrence, no problem. Travis Etienne has this.

No. 3 Clemson overcame an injury to its heralded quarterback and several key mistakes, riding Etienne and a strong rushing attack to defeat Syracuse 27-23 in Death Valley Saturday afternoon. Etienne scored the go-ahead touchdown with 41 seconds to play as the Tigers overcame a nine-point halftime deficit. The game-winning drive covered 94 yards.

Overall, the Tigers rushed for 293 yards, with Etienne carrying the ball 27 times for 203 yards. Lawrence was 10-of-15 for 93 yards before his injury. Backup Chase Brice 7-of-13 for 83 yards, but also had a key 17-yard run on the game-winning drive.

The Tigers outgained Syracuse 469-311. The Orange rushed 26 times for 61 yards.

“What a game. It’s one that I’ll probably never forget," head coach Dabo Swinney said. "I’m super proud of our team and staff. They faced a lot of challenges this week, obviously, but you saw our football team grow up today. You saw the heart of our football team today. We kept battling. Trevor [Lawrence] got knocked out of the game, and we put Chase [Brice] in there, who hasn’t played in critical situations before. I was impressed with the moxie of our team. Somewhere, Danny Ford is smiling because that was an old-school win. I really appreciate our crowd. We needed some energy, and they gave it to us.”

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers credited Clemson in the win.

“It was a big contest, it was a big game. They came back with a backup quarterback and found a way to win that football game at home," Babers said. "That’s a good football team over there, and good coaches over there.”

Etienne gave credit to his offenisve line for opening holes.

“The offensive line created tremendous holes for us to just get out there and run free," Etinne said. "Our job is to make the safety miss, and the offensive line helped us take that to the next level. Also, the receivers being who they are, they got some great blocks down the field and that just really helped us. I feel like it was a great win. We faced adversity throughout the game. We just couldn’t get it right. We just had to keep fighting and keep pushing through. It just really builds character, and I think the team needed it.”

The Orange got on the board right off the bat, taking the opening kickoff and driving 58 yards in 11 plays. The drive ended with a 35-yard field goal from Andre Szmyt, and Syracuse held the quick 3-0 lead. The Orange added to the lead after Clemson fumbled on the second play of the game, with Szmyt hitting a 51-yarder for a 6-0 lead with 8:26 remaining in the first quarter.

Clemson punted on its second possession, forced a quick Syracuse punt and put points on the board on the third drive. The Tigers took over at their own 40 and drove the 60 yards in 10 plays, highlighted by Hunter Renfrow’s 150th career reception. Facing a third-and-short inside the one, the Tigers brought out the jumbo package with Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. Lawrence went out and the direct snap went to Etienne, who scored easily to make it 7-6 late in the first quarter.

The Tigers missed a 48-yard field goal and the Orange used a 51-yard pass play to take the lead. Syracuse scored on Eric Dungey’s one-yard run and head the lead 13-7 midway through the second quarter.

That was the first first-half touchdown allowed by Clemson at Memorial Stadium since Nov. 12, 2016. Tigers held opponents without a first-half TD in Death Valley for 686 days, including 309:52 of gameplay.

The thing that couldn’t happen promptly happened – Lawrence got hurt. Facing a third down just shy of midfield, Lawrence rolled out of the pocket and to the sidelines and took a shot to the head. He left for the locker room and the game was in the hands of Brice.

The Tigers moved past midfield to start the second half, but the offensive line allowed Brice to be sacked, moving Clemson out of field goal range, and Brice threw an interception on the second drive of the half. The Orange took over at the Clemson 42 and had a chance to perhaps put the game away, but the defense forced a 3-and-out and a punt.

Clemson got on the board with a 42-yard field goal from Huegel, and Syracuse led 16-10 with 4:09 to play in the second quarter. Three plays later, AJ Terrell intercepted Dungey and returned it 20 yards to the Syracuse 45, but a missed pass interference call in the end zone led to another Huegel field goal, and it was 16-13 with 2:13 to play in the third quarter.

Clemson’s defense forced yet another Syracuse punt and with Death Valley at full throat, it appeared the Tigers were about to grab the momentum. However, Amari Rodgers muffed the punt and it was recovered by the Orange at the Clemson 10. It was the last play of the third quarter.

Facing a 4th-and-goal at the one, Dungey tried to leap over the pile and appeared to be stopped but was pushed over the goal line by one of his linemen and Cuse led 23-13 with 12:58 to play.

With their backs against the wall, the Clemson offense responded in a big way. Passes to Higgins and Justyn Ross moved the ball to midfield, and Etienne took care of the rest. Etienne bounced off two tacklers and raced down the right sideline for a 26-yard score, and it was 23-20 Syracuse with 11:08 to play.

The ensuing possession by the Orange crossed midfield, and a 4th-and-1 appeared to be converted after a tight got past the secondary. However, Syracuse was ruled with an ineligible man downfield and they were forced to punt. Clemson took over at its own 20 with 8:46 to play. The drive stalled after Etienne picked up first down, and a short Will Spiers punt gave the Orange the ball at the 32 with just over six minutes to play.

The defense once again held and a booming punt pinned Clemson at its own six with 6:06 to play.

The 94 yards didn’t faze Brice, Tavien Feaster, or Etienne. Etienne had five carries and Feaster six on the drive, but Brice came up with two plays that made the difference. Facing a 4th-and-1 just over midfield, the Tigers went for it and were called for a false start. Now a passing situation, Brice hit Higgins for 20 yards and a first down at the Syracuse 32. Brice followed with a 17-yard run to the Syracuse 15, and Etienne finished the drive with a two-yard run that made it 27-23 with 41 seconds to play.

“We needed to settle down in the fourth quarter and give Chase legs, so our ability to run the football gave us a chance to win game," Swinney said. "[Travis] Etienne had over 200 yards rushing. The offensive line took over, and Syracuse had no answer for our ground game. We had several big play-action plays. I hate that Trevor had to miss the second half, but we grew up as team. Chase had to go out and prove that he could do it, and I can’t say enough good things about the way that he played today.”

On the ensuing possession, a penalty and Xavier Thomas’ eight-yard sack of Dungey made it 2nd-and-30 for the Orange and their own five with just 20 seconds to play. Time ran out of the Orange offense and the upset bid after a failed fourth down attempt fell short of the marker.

Clemson travels to Winston-Salem next weekend to take on Wake Forest.



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