Syracuse’s run game has best performance of season in 27-24 upset win over No. 2 Clemson

first_imgMoe Neal got the first Syracuse handoff of the game. The shifty back took a carry to the left, made a few jump cuts and scampered toward an 11-yard pickup.Dontae Strickland got in on the fun five plays later. He took his first carry of the game and plunged up a hole created right down the middle. When linebacker Kendall Joseph came to meet him, Strickland lowered his shoulder and barreled him over. Strickland let out a roar as he got back on his feet.Syracuse (4-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) has struggled to run the ball all season. Strickland only got the ball four times in the first half last week against Pittsburgh. Head coach Dino Babers said that SU wanted to throw the ball early and often to try and open things up for an offense that had struggled in its last three first halves. Running holes hadn’t been open all season. Not against North Carolina State and its wrecking ball of a defensive end Bradley Chubb. Not even against measly FCS opponent Central Connecticut State.But against No. 2 Clemson (6-1, 2-1), the defending national champions with arguably the best defense in the country, the holes were there. The Orange played a patient, methodical game; its fast-paced offense set a season-high for time of possession and the second-highest mark in the Babers era. Strickland set a season high for yards per carry in a game. And it all culminated in a 27-24 upset victory on Friday night in the Carrier Dome.“I think it was just our linemen starting to come together,” quarterback Eric Dungey said. “Dontae he’s running the ball hard … it was just the linemen doing their job.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe offensive linemen share a trait with Dungey in that, barring injury, they never come off the field. Unlike Dungey, though, the linemen have been much-maligned because the group is inexperienced.Frequently, when Babers talked about the issues to the running game, he’d say that his offensive line was still developing. That it was hard for a group with two teenagers playing college football for the first time to match up with the bigger, stronger athletes on the other side of the ball.That wasn’t an issue against Clemson’s front, which has limited opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing per game on average. That unit featured defensive end Austin Bryant, who came in with 11 tackles for a loss on the year.Todd Michalek | Staff PhotographerThe mental mistakes that plagued SU’s line were mostly gone. The unit was ready for the challenge of performing on a nationally televised game in what ended up as potentially the biggest upset in college football this season.“I don’t want to say that any game is different than any other one. But,” starting left tackle Cody Conway said, pausing, “I feel like guys really locked in this weekend. Took their job seriously.”Clemson’s line did make plays. It sacked Dungey four times in the first quarter alone. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell had 5.5 tackles for a loss by himself.But SU was prepared to fight back against the Tigers, pound for pound. The Orange’s first touchdown of the game came when Clemson brought a blitz. Two offensive linemen slipped out to block for Strickland on a designed screen. Strickland caught the ball and stayed up despite cornerback Mark Fields diving at his feet. The linemen ran up to block, and the Orange picked up an easy six points.Early in the third quarter, Syracuse started with the ball at its own one-yard line. A second- and third-down carry from Strickland picked up a first down.The run game was a factor when SU wanted to ice the game, too. On SU’s final possession, in which it milked away the final 6:10, Strickland took the first three plays and picked up a first down. He ran for seven more yards, bringing up a third-and-3. The Tigers had just one more timeout, meaning a first down would seal the upset victory.A penalty pushed SU back five yards, though. So Dungey took matters into his own legs. The line created a hole up the middle for him to run. He burst up field and after being wrapped up, twisted his body and stretched the ball over his head to just clip the first down marker. Syracuse went right at Clemson on the ground in the biggest moments of the game.“The way we were running the ball in the fourth quarter …” Babers said. “It was a lot. Because you could see that (Clemson’s defense) was getting a little taxed.”Conway described the experience of the game “surreal” and said it didn’t compare to any game he’d played at SU. He gets to feel that now because his unit played better than it ever had. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on October 14, 2017 at 1:41 am Contact Tomer: tdlanger@syr.edu | @tomer_langerlast_img read more