Trevor Lawrence threw for three touchdowns and ran for another and top-ranked Clemson beat nemesis Syracuse 41-6 on Saturday night.
Clemson (3-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won 18 straight games, a school record and the longest streak in the nation. It’s the second-longest winning streak by an ACC member in conference history, trailing a 29-game run by Florida State from 2012-14.
Syracuse (1-2, 0-1), the last team to defeat Clemson in the regular season, was unbeaten at home last fall. The Orange were coming off a 43-point loss at Maryland that dropped them out of the rankings.
Clemson won its eighth straight true road game and avenged a 27-24 loss to Syracuse two years ago, and the defense stood tall, limiting Syracuse to 187 yards offensively and sacking Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito eight times. Clemson finished with 15 tackles losses of 71 yards.
“This is a big, big win for us,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “The defense tonight I thought was amazing. It all starts up front. We lost a lot of players but we’ve just got some guys around here that can play.”
Lawrence was knocked out of last year’s game in the second quarter and the Orange were poised for an upset victory on the road before backup Chase Brice guided the Tigers 94 yards in the waning moments for the winning touchdown in a 27-23 win.
No such problems on this night.
Lawrence, who threw on the run when he had to, finished 22 of 39 for a career-high 395 yards with two interceptions before departing in the fourth. Clemson finished with 612 yards offensively.
“We’ve got a good group,” Swinney said. “They’re just going to get better. They’ve accepted the challenge. We’ve got three wins. That’s where we wanted to be. We’re a hungry team.”
Clemson took a 7-0 lead on its second possession with Lawrence methodically driving the Tigers 79 yards in just seven plays. He completed four passes for 54 yards, mixing in a 9-yard gain on a keeper and finishing it with a 16-yard strike into the end zone to Amari Rodgers with standout Orange safety Andre Cisco out of position.
The Tigers boosted the lead to 14-0 on Lawrence’s 1-yard keeper late in the first. Lawrence, who scored untouched after a nice fake, keyed the drive with a 35-yard completion on the run to Tee Higgins in double coverage and a personal foul against the Orange put the Tigers deep in Syracuse territory.
Unlike his predecessor, dual-threat Eric Dungey, Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito likes to set up in the pocket but didn’t have time as the Clemson defense repeatedly pressured him in his third college start. The Orange were held without a first down in the opening quarter, gaining just 49 yards on 15 plays and falling behind.
“We just hurt ourselves,” DeVito said. “We didn’t put points on the board. That’s unacceptable.”
DeVito was sacked six times in the first half and had to throw on the run all night. He did duck low to avoid the pass rush and hit tight end Luke Benson for 24 yards to set up Andre Szmyt’s 29-yard field goal early in the second to get the Orange on the board.
B.T. Potter’s 41-yard field goal gave Clemson a 17-3 lead that was set up by a beautiful catch-and-run for 59 yards by Higgins, who caught the ball along the left sideline and cut back across the field.
The Carrier Dome was sold out for the first time in 21 years, but the crowd of 50,248, the third-largest since the building opened in 1980, wasn’t much of a factor as the Orange fell behind. When DeVito hit Moe Neal out of the backfield for a 50-yard catch-and-run down the right side and connected with Neal again on the next play for 17 more to move the ball inside the Clemson 10-yard line, the Dome came alive. But the Orange couldn’t solve that defense, had to settle for Szmyt’s 23-yard field goal, and trailed 17-6 at the half.
Syracuse had two terrific chances to get back in the game in the third and failed both times, prompting many fans to head for the exits.
Chris Fredrick intercepted Lawrence and returned the ball 20 yards to the Clemson 9, but DeVito was forced out of the pocket on the next play and his pass on the run was intercepted by Mario Goodrich at the 4. Three plays later, Rodgers caught a swing pass out to the right, averted two tackles, and went 87 yards for a score. The play was reviewed as Rodgers appeared to be barely out of bounds on the replay but it was allowed to stand.
Trill Williams intercepted Lawrence late in the period and returned it 53 yards to the Clemson 3, but the Orange were unable to punch it in and turned the ball over on downs when DeVito was stopped on fourth down.
DeVito was 15 of 27 for 172 yards with one interception.
Higgins had seven catches for 150 yards, all in the first half, outgaining the Syracuse offense by 16 yards in the first two quarters.
DeVito lost 42 yards rushing, mostly on the sacks, and four other runners for the Orange managed just 69 yards on 27 carries.
Syracuse honored World War II veteran Dan Waful prior to the national anthem. Waful, who graduated from Syracuse in 1937, had missed only three home football games since 1946 before his death on Thursday at age 103.
The game broke a recent trend. One quarterback had been injured in each of the last three games, two for the Tigers. Dungey left in the first quarter of a 54-0 loss three years ago at Death Valley, Clemson’s Kelly Bryant left at halftime of Syracuse’s victory in the Dome two years ago, and Lawrence was knocked out in the second quarter of his first start for the Tigers last season after a hard hit to the helmet.
Syracuse has a streak of 17 consecutive games with a takeaway, the third-longest streak in the country.
Clemson is seeking its third national championship in four years and the top-ranked Tigers easily avoided a pitfall to stay on track in a conference that appears to be down this year.
Clemson: The Tigers remain the class of the ACC and the win over Syracuse, the team picked to finish behind them in the Atlantic Division, removes an obstacle going forward.
Syracuse: Despite a 43-point loss at week ago at Maryland, the Orange, who were ranked No. 22 in preseason, still received votes in this week’s poll. That’s a sign of the respect the team has earned under coach Dino Babers, who guided them to 10 wins last season. Expect the Orange to regroup after squandering chances in a big game.
Clemson returns home to face Charlotte next Saturday.
Syracuse continues a three-game homestand when Western Michigan visits next Saturday.
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