It’s yet to be seen if Clemson’s 0-2 start in the ACC is too deep a hole from which to dig out.
But the climb has to start somewhere.

In this case, that somewhere is Syracuse’s JMA Wireless Dome – a venue that has been troublesome for Dabo Swinney’s team in recent years.

The Tigers got off to a fast start and never trailed on their way to a 31-14 victory that avoided their 1st 0-3 conference start since 1998, the final season of the Tommy West era. Cade Klubnick threw for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns to hand the Orange their 1st loss of the season.

It’s the 2nd straight year in which Clemson has knocked Syracuse from the ranks of the unbeaten. The Tigers are now 15-5 against undefeated teams that were 4-0 or better under Swinney, who becomes only the 2nd coach in ACC history to reach the 100-victory plateau in conference play. 

Here are 3 takeaways from the battle between the Orange and the team with the orange paws on their helmets:

Turnover turnaround

Costly turnovers have been a major part of Clemson’s identity so far this season. And that trend continued again on Saturday.

Only this time the Tigers were the ones creating the most decisive turnovers.

Justin Mascoll knocked the ball loose from Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader on the game’s opening possession, allowing teammate Payton Page to fall on it and set up Clemson’s 1st touchdown – a 14-yard pass from Klubnik to Troy Stellato.

Later in the 1st quarter, an errant backward pass from Shrader to LeQuint Allen was scooped up by Xavier Thomas and returned to the Syracuse 3 where Will Shipley converted it into a 14-0 Clemson lead.

The Tigers weren’t completely immune from their giveaway tendencies. A fumble by Jake Briningstool led directly to a Syracuse touchdown early in the 4th quarter. But because Clemson was already ahead by 3 scores, it was able to withstand the mistake and hold on for the win this time.

Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. finished off the victory with an interception that gave the Tigers a plus-2 advantage in the turnover battle.

What can Brown do for you?

As damaging as Antonio Williams’ injury has been to Klubnik and the Tigers’ passing game, it could turn out to produce a long-term benefit thanks to the opportunity it has provided for young Tyler Brown.

The true freshman has stepped in for Williams and led Clemson receiving in each of the past 2 games.

He had 5 catches for 84 yards in last week’s loss to Florida State. Saturday at Syracuse, he increased those totals, pulling in 8 passes on 11 targets for 151 yards, including a 47-yarder to set up a field goal on the opening possession of the 2nd half.

His emergence will give Klubnik and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley an added weapon to exploit once Williams returns as they battle to turn their season around.

A kick too far

Syracuse coach Dino Babers may have gotten caught up in the moment as his team battled back from an early 2-score deficit. Either that or he got caught being overly aggressive when he sent kicker Brady Denaburg out to attempt a 57-yard field goal with his team trailing 14-7 late in the 1st half.

Denaburg, whose career-long is 46 yards earlier this season against Army, showed a lot of leg on the try. Just not enough to get it to the crossbar.

The miss gave Clemson the ball at the 39-yard line. And it only took Klubnik 2 plays to get his team into the end zone and retake the momentum the Orange had spent the entire half trying to regain. A 14-yard scramble on 3rd-and-10 was followed by a 47-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Beaux Collins to extend the Tigers’ lead to 21-7 at halftime.