Syracuse football is at a crossroads. They have just lost to a team they should have lost to; a team that has spent the entire year in the playoff spots.
Yet this weekend’s loss to Clemson feels disappointing for Syracuse; a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2013 and has won only two games each of the last three conference seasons.
There are a number of reasons why the sense of disappointment will linger all the way up to kick-off against Pittsburgh this weekend.
With 2:38 left in the fourth quarter, all the Orange needed was a stop. Clemson had overcome the loss of their starting quarterback and three turnovers to get to this point: three points down and facing fourth down with six yards to go.
Clemson back-up quarterback Chase Brice finds Tee Higgins on the outside for a 20-yard gain and an important first down. Five plays later, the Tigers were in the end zone. Having reduced the clock to under a minute, the game was effectively over for the Orange.
Ten minutes of game time before that fourth down, Syracuse had gone up by two scores and Death Valley was flat. The mood quickly changed after a six-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 26-yard scoring scamper from Travis Etienne brought it back within three.
The Clemson fans, recently used to success, probably felt like it was inevitable they were going to find a way to win. But Syracuse will feel like they let a very winnable game against one of the best teams in the country slip away.
Brice shouldn’t have even been in the game to lead the improbable final drive. Earlier in the week, the Tigers were embroiled in college football’s biggest story when Kelly Bryant, their week one starting quarterback, requested a transfer on Wednesday.
Clemson had been running a two-QB system for the beginning portion of the season. However last week coach Dabo Swinney finally named the number one dual threat quarterback in the 2018 class, Trevor Lawrence, as the lone starter moving forward.
The story swirled and hung over the Tigers all week, likely causing some distraction. When Lawrence went down late in the first half, that should have opened the door for the Orange to punish Clemson. They should have attacked Brice often and made he and Swinney wear the decision to force Bryant out the door. Instead, Brice was able to get comfortable and do just enough to pull out an important win for a team with national championship aspirations.
Syracuse, on the other hand, couldn’t take advantage of the turmoil.
The highlight of a dismal Orange season in 2017 was beating the then defending national champions in the Dome. That win over Clemson ignited belief that Syracuse could make a bowl after going a game over .500.
But we all know that it ended in disaster, with the Orange losing out to finish the season 4-8 for the second year in a row. That is why this year’s team is at a crossroads. An admittedly different one than last year, but a crossroads nonetheless.
At 4-1, the Orange are still destined for a bowl. This loss against Clemson was disappointing, yes, but this season is too promising to put heads down like last year. The game after the win against Clemson was a heartbreaking loss at Miami, another ranked team. It was that single score loss that sent the Orange into a tailspin that destroyed the season.
The hope has to be that this same type of loss have the same effect. Next week is a very winnable game at Pittsburgh that will define the season. The Orange are five-point favorites and a win would put them one game away from their first bowl bid since 2013. A point that should motivate these players enough to continue balling out.
For the next week, it will be hard to be completely optimistic knowing that Syracuse have a tendency to be a tease. A loss at the Panthers will feel eerily familiar. A win will make a whole fanbase believe.
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