Syracuse, N.Y. — As the celebration in the Syracuse locker room reverberated through the walls of the Carrier Dome, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney winced a little bit, dreams of a perfect season lost in a sea of orange.
Eric Dungey threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns, Cole Murphy kicked a tiebreaking field goal in the fourth quarter, and Syracuse stunned No. 2 Clemson 27-24 on Friday night to put a damper on the Tigers’ chances to repeat as national champions.
Down maybe, but not completely out. The Tigers (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) won the national championship last season despite a loss during the season to Pittsburgh.
“Every goal is there for this team,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to get better from this, have the type of season we want to have.”
Clemson had won 12 consecutive games on the opponent’s home field, the longest streak in Clemson history and tied for the second longest active streak in the nation. Clemson also had won 11 consecutive games overall, the longest active winning streak in the nation, and 12 straight away from home against ACC teams.
“It wasn’t our night tonight. They were better than us,” Swinney said. “There’s nothing we’re going to fix now. We’re not going to be 12-0, that’s for sure. That’s not going to happen. This is going to hurt, but you move forward.”
The Orange (4-3, 2-1) are 3-6 against the previous year’s national champion, also beating Penn State in 1987 and Michigan in 1998. This was the program’s first win in 13 tries against the No. 2 team in the nation.
“This is truly one of the moments that you coach for. This is really special,” said Syracuse coach Dino Babers, in his second year with the Orange. “This is big.”
The Tigers took a big blow when quarterback Kelly Bryant suffered a concussion in the final minute of the first half. He was knocked down hard by defensive tackle Chris Slayton and lay on the turf for a couple of minutes before being helped to the locker room. Slowed after spraining his left ankle last week against Wake Forest, Bryant passed for 116 yards and ran for minus-8 yards.
“They came ready to play,” Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “They came out, they saw blood, they saw they had a definite chance to win the game and we just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had to make a comeback.”
Bryant, who watched the second half from the sideline, entered the game averaging 277 yards of total offense, but noticeably favored an injured ankle as Syracuse gained a surprising 17-14 halftime lead.
Zerrick Cooper replaced Bryant to start the second half and guided the Tigers to a tying field goal.
The Tigers tried a trick play with time winding down, but Will Spiers threw an incompletion on a fake punt.
The Syracuse defense limited the Tigers to 2 of 11 on third down, none more critical than Cooper’s overthrow on third down before the fake.
Syracuse used big plays to stun the Tigers, hitting six for 20 yards or more as the Orange outgained Clemson 440-317. Dungey hit Dontae Strickland for a 23-yard score to open the game and hit Ervin Philips for 66 yards in the first quarter and Steve Ishmael for 30 in the third to break a 17-17 tie.
“Quick show of hands. Who thought we were going to win tonight?” Dungey asked in the postgame interviews. “That’s exactly what we’ve been saying. It’s just us. Nobody believes in us except us.”
The Orange defense took a page out of Clemson’s playbook. The Tigers were among just three teams in the nation averaging at least 230 yards rushing and 230 yards passing (Ohio State and Oregon are the others). The Tigers managed just 39 yards rushing in the first half and 113 total and finished with 204 passing.
The Tigers had their moments, though. Tavien Feaster capped a three-play drive with a 37-yard run untouched up the middle of the Orange defense to tie it at 7, Tanner Muse scooped up a fumble and raced 63 yards for a TD to tie it at 14-all midway through the second, and Travis Etienne scored on a 52-yard run in the third.
Subtract those two long runs and the rest of the night the Tigers gained 24 yards on 23 carries.
No wonder the hometown fans stormed the field afterward.
“It was kind of surreal,” Syracuse linebacker Parris Bennett said.