Syracuse Football: Despite loss, Orange showed it can hang with big boys

Syracuse football (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Syracuse football (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images) /

Leading up to an Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweight collision with No. 5 Clemson on Saturday afternoon in Death Valley, a lot of debate centered on whether No. 14 Syracuse football was a legit top-25 team worthy of a national ranking.

Just how good was the Orange? Was the ‘Cuse for real? Or did Syracuse football simply manage to not cough up a setback through its first six encounters, more so based on luck than anything else?

I’d argue that six victories in a row are six victories in a row, regardless of the opponents and how close some of those conquests ended up being.

But I get the skepticism. First and foremost, the Orange hasn’t been good in a while. The ‘Cuse narrowly beat Virginia and Purdue, with both games at home.

Last weekend, Syracuse football did pick up a nice win against top-15 N.C. State on the Hill, but the Wolfpack didn’t have its starting quarterback available. And, respectfully, UConn and Wagner weren’t formidable foes.

But on Saturday, Syracuse football showed that it can compete with the giants in the sport.

The Orange entered Memorial Stadium as a sizable betting underdog. The Tigers own the longest winning streak in the country, and they haven’t lost on their own turf in a long, long time.

I know that every squad in college football has to deal with injuries, but the ‘Cuse has already lost at least five guys to season-ending injuries. Star cornerback Garrett Williams, who will play in the NFL someday, didn’t compete in the Clemson affair.

Throughout this instant-classic contest between the Tigers and the Orange, several ‘Cuse players, particularly on the defensive side, got banged up.

The Orange’s Mob defense, which forced a whopping four turnovers to just one for Clemson’s defensive unit, relied on players further down the depth chart. And those reserves fared well, by and large.

Let’s remember that in recent years, the Tigers have won two national championships. Besides 2021, they’ve been in the College Football Playoff a lot of late. They’re the premier group in the ACC.

But even with all of that as context, Syracuse football didn’t look fazed. The Orange believed it could win. And much like a few stanzas back in Death Valley, the ‘Cuse had Clemson on the ropes in the fourth quarter.

Similar to that 2018 game, the Tigers would emerge victorious by a narrow margin on Saturday, this time a 27-21 final outcome, and the Orange fan base had its collective heart shattered once again.

And as I noted earlier on Saturday in a column, the ‘Cuse really blew a big-time opportunity to stun the top-five Tigers by shooting itself in the foot in the second half.

Penalties galore. Not getting Sean Tucker involved enough. Not putting any points on the board. Poor clock management. Not spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers in the passing attack.

Saturday afternoon’s loss is a tough pill to swallow. Syracuse football easily could have come out on top. It didn’t. Just like in 2018. But the 2022 campaign is far from over.

Starting with a home date versus Notre Dame on October 29, the Orange (6-1) has five regular-season contests left. It will likely prove difficult to capture the ACC’s Atlantic division, since the Tigers now own the tiebreaker over the ‘Cuse.

However, Syracuse football can still attain double-digit successes in 2022. The Orange can earn an invite to an impressive bowl game. The ‘Cuse can contend for a high national ranking in the major polls.

Sure, the officiating was irritating on Saturday afternoon. The Orange isn’t going to go undefeated in 2022, although I didn’t expect that to occur, anyway.

Yes, I’m sad and more than a little frustrated that the ‘Cuse blew a golden opportunity to knock off Clemson (8-0). At the same time, I have tons of respect, love and admiration for this Syracuse football roster.

Despite the odds against them, and a heartbreaking loss to the Tigers, our beloved Orange players showed on a beautiful fall day this Saturday afternoon that they could go toe to toe with one of the best squads across the country in college football.

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