The only Week 6 game I was able to watch was the rain-soaked disaster that was Michigan vs. MSU – so there was no recap. The most notable result from that week was Oklahoma’s utterly stunning home loss to Iowa State. Somehow that’s already old news. Week 7 was insane.
I suppose I should stop being so certain with these recaps. The conclusions we take from these games are always tenuous at best, and relatively well-established expectations can be blown to smithereens at any moment. This past weekend didn’t feature any matchups between ranked teams; three undefeated Power Five teams still fell to substantial underdogs. The playoff race was thrown into chaos. The Pac-12 no longer has any undefeated teams after Washington and Washington State suffered their first losses, and Clemson’s defeat against Syracuse was a significant setback for the reigning national champions and erstwhile playoff frontrunners.
The Tigers had survived a rock fight at home against Auburn and had handled Louisville and Auburn on the road with ease – their trip to the Carrier Dome definitely wasn’t expected to be the source of their first loss. Quarterback Kelly Bryant, who’d been nursing an ankle injury from the week before, was concussed late in the first half (he did not return). Zerrick Cooper actually played pretty well in relief of Bryant, but ultimately the 27-24 defeat was mostly due to Clemson’s inability to contain Syracuse’s Eric Dungey, who had a career night against one of college football’s most imposing defenses – he threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns (and added an impressive 91 sack-adjusted rushing yards on 15 carries).
It was clear from the beginning that Syracuse would be a challenge, as they opened the game with an impressive touchdown drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Dungey to Dontae Strickland on 3rd-and-15 from just outside the red zone. Clemson responded with a quick touchdown, but a bomb from Dungey to Ervin Phillips later in the first quarter gave Syracuse the lead and was the first of two quick touchdown drives that covered most of the field. Even though he took six sacks on the game, Dungey was able to exploit the Tiger secondary for some big plays in the passing game and wound up singlehandedly outgaining Clemson.
The game followed a pattern until the fourth quarter – Syracuse would pull out to a one-score lead, and then Clemson would tie it up shortly thereafter. The final stanza was bizarre: there were just three total drives, as Syracuse’s pass-happy Dino Babers offense was able to milk the clock – first on a 16-play march for a go-ahead field goal, and then on a clock-killing drive that started with six minutes left (the final third down was converted as Dungey lunged over the line to gain as he was being dragged down by two Tigers). In the middle was a Clemson possession that concluded with the punter dropping the ball and deciding to throw an inexplicable Hail Mary pass towards the end zone.
Clemson had the misfortune of missing two field goals from inside of forty yards, but benefitted from a fumble return touchdown in the second quarter. Regardless, Syracuse played them evenly and made enough plays down the stretch; a team that had lost to Middle Tennessee State in September pulled the huge upset. A well-timed bye week gives the Tigers a chance to regroup, but they face three tricky teams in a row after – Georgia Tech’s triple option, NC State’s stingy run defense, and a talented-but-underachieving Florida State. While they could still play their way into the playoff, their margin for error the rest of the way got much smaller.
[More on the week that was after the JUMP]