Trevor Lawrence threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns and running back Travis Etienne scored three touchdowns as No. 1 Clemson pulled away from a valiant Syracuse effort for a 47-21 victory Saturday at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.
Clemson improved to 6-0 overall for a sixth consecutive season and the 16th time in school history. The Tigers also moved to 5-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play with their 27th straight victory against a league opponent.
Syracuse (1-5, 1-4) entered as an underdog of 47.5 points by kickoff, the largest negative point spread in program history, and had possession with a chance to go ahead in the third quarter, trailing 27-21.
“I think we’re really confident, but we’re still upset about the fact that we didn’t finish the game because we had an opportunity to beat them,” said SU redshirt freshman cornerback Garrett Williams.
“Even though we didn’t finish the job, I think it was a good game to come back from (losing to Liberty) last week, and it gave us another jolt to believe in each other again and realize, we can play with anybody.”
Clemson jumped out to a 17-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. Lawrence had a 25-yard touchdown pass to Cornell Powell, B.T. Potter added a 24-yard field goal and Etienne had a 25-yard scoring run to build the early lead.
After Syracuse recorded a seven-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Sean Tucker, Clemson pushed its lead to 24-7 with a 17-yard strike from Lawrence to tight end Davis Allen, who has had at least one touchdown reception in three straight games.
But after going 12 games and 366 passes without being intercepted, Lawrence was intercepted for a second consecutive game. Syracuse’s Garrett Williams picked off a pass that bounced out of the grasp of Clemson’s Amari Rodgers and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown with 1:18 left in the first half to cut Clemson’s lead to 24-14. It was the first “Pick 6” of Lawrence’s career.
Another Potter field goal, this time from 36 yards out with one second left in the half, gave the Tigers a 27-14 halftime lead, but the Orange burned Clemson with an 83-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rex Culpepper to Nykeim Johnson to make it 27-21.
Clemson responded by scoring 20 unanswered points to pull away. Andrew Booth Jr. had a scoop-and-score 21-yard touchdown on a fumble by Culpepper and Etienne added short scoring runs of 9 and 1 yard to cap the scoring.
Etienne finished with 86 yards on 16 carries and moved within 43 yards of breaking the all-time ACC rushing record held by former N.C. State standout Ted Brown since 1978.
Culpepper completed 10 of 26 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown for the Orange, but he was intercepted three times.
Tucker led Syracuse on the ground with 63 yards and a score before leaving with a lower leg injury in the second quarter and not returning.
The freshman entered pacing SU with 4.9 yards per carry, 74 rushing yards per game and a pair of touchdowns, and had impressed early by out-gaining his decorated counterpart, Etienne, in the first half.
“Sean couldn’t finish, lower-body, we’ll have to see how it goes,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said.
“My hat goes off to that young man, for us to be in a game like this and for him to have more yards at halftime than Etienne, he was really running well so I really hope that he’s able to come back with us. He has had an eye-opening first half of the season.”
Syracuse played without leading receiver, junior Taj Harris, who did not travel with the team. His absence was not specified but came after he flashed his middle finger to TV cameras near the end of the Oct. 17 setback against Liberty.
“That stuff is always in-house with us, that’s family business,” Babers said. “I love that young man, and I want nothing but the best for him and his mom. I sat in their living room and said that I would take care of him like he’s my own son. ... That stuff’s internal. I can’t wait to get back and talk to him.”
The Orange will host Wake Forest at noon next Saturday in the Carrier Dome.