#2 Clemson Tigers v Syracuse Orange
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, New York
Score: #2 Clemson Tigers 24, Syracuse 27
1) Eric Dungey can ball
Though I came into the contest fully aware of Syracuse’s productive offense and excellent wide receivers, I assumed junior QB Eric Dungey had inflated numbers due to the system.
Sweet Mary, I was wrong.
Dungey impressed for four quarters, showing excellent poise, toughness, and decision-making when under constant pressure from the fearsome Clemson front four. He wasn’t asked to make too many difficult throws, but his touch on vertical routes to the boundary really stood out. Dungey never saw go route he didn’t like all game, and he consistently put the ball on dimes 30 yards down the field.
What a gamer, too. Dungey regularly made excellent plays with his legs, showing great mobility through the pocket and nice ball-carrier skills down the field. On the ultimate 3rd down to put the game away, Dungey took a QB draw the exact 8 yards needed, extending for the first down that iced Clemson’s 12-game road winning streak. He regularly delivered accurate balls on 3rd down, stepping into pressure fearlessly. Kid went down with injury, popped up after a few seconds writhing in pain, and tried to convince the ref he could stay in for the 3rd and goal snap.
Dungey’s a shorter QB, but he has true dual-threat ability and an arm with nice touch. He doesn’t have great velocity on his arm, and he didn’t have to test many tight windows, but you can’t beat a defense as talented as Clemson’s without excellent QB play. Dungey led his team to this victory, and his performance on a national stage will draw scouts’ eyes to his next performances.
2) He’s got the receivers to continue ballin’
Of the many offensive weapons deployed by the Orange en route to their historic upset, three stood out.
Senior Steve Ishmael came into the contest leading all of college football in receptions (56) and yards (729)–it was clear why his numbers were so ludicrous. He tracks the ball very well down the field and addresses it at height, his hands true away from the frame. He pulled in a slant through heavy contact and had an excellent adjustment, catch, and yards through contact after the catch for a TD that was called back due to offensive pass interference. That’s a glaring issue for Ishmael–he had more than a few reps were OPI was either called, or should have been.
Senior Ervin Phillips showed off some excellent suddenness in the open field, though he’s more an offensive weapon than natural receiver, as Ishmael is. He had a drop on a low, but catchable ball and a long TD on a coverage bust. He’ll likely bring more special teams value as a return man at the next level, should he stick on a roster.
You like measurables? Don’t sleep on redshirt junior Jamal Custis. He missed time in the beginning of the season with a shoulder injury, but he popped on the field v. Clemson with excellent speed and a massive frame (high school hoops star). He only had one catch for 15 yards, but drew a penalty on a go route that could have gone for 6. Keep a star by that name.
3) Can’t forget about Clelin Ferrell
I’m as high on Bradley Chubb as the next guy, but Clelin Ferrell is still the best Draft-eligible EDGE right now.
The redshirt sophomore likely won’t declare this year, but when he does, NFL teams will fall in love with his length, explosiveness, and overall athletic ability. At 6’4 and 260 pounds, with arms down to his knees, Ferrell dropped into a short zone, recognized the QB releasing on a route for a trick play, tracked him about 35 yards down the field, and nearly had a pick. That’s straight silliness.
Ferrell terrorized the mesh point against Syracuse, showcasing elite get-off to disrupt plays in the backfield. He worked his long arms well with various rip moves, both inside and out, and can corner with good velocity to put pressure on the quarterback. Most of his sacks came from cleanup duty or on broken plays, but his motor and closing burst impressed nonetheless.
While Ferrell doesn’t have the production that Chubb does, his athletic profile makes him the more desirable prospect–but don’t worry, Chubb stans. It’s only by that much.
4) Hunter Renfrow is a legit prospect
We’ve known this, but we aren’t talking enough about it–Renfrow regularly makes high-quality WR plays that go under-discussed. Against Syracuse, Renfrow showcased his excellent hands, especially on a diving catch to the boundary where he froze a ball about 12 inches above the turf and ensured it never even brushed a blade of grass. He adjusted very well to the football in the air, and understands how to manufacture throwing lanes for his quarterback when scrambling.
Renfrow’s athleticism and vision as a ball-carrier, however, remain the most under-appreciated aspect of his game. On multiple quick throws and WR screens, Renfrow demonstrated that he has the suddenness to make defenders miss in space. He has RB-esque vision and decisiveness as a ball-carrier as well, which led to maximized yardage on his touches.
In some ways, Renfrow reminds me of Cooper Kupp, without the incredible volume. He’s savvy, has excellent hands, and will likely be a better on-field athlete than he tests. Kupp went in the second round to Los Angeles–why can’t Renfrow achieve a similar draft stock?
5) Christian Wilkins has question marks
I had this take long before the Syracuse game, but Wilkins’ performance against the Orange did little to assuage my concerns. I’m not telling you Wilkins isn’t a first-round selection, but he isn’t a true EDGE, and he isn’t a better interior defensive lineman than the likes of Maurice Hurst from Michigan and Da’Ron Payne from Alabama.
Clemson’s defensive line is studded with stars: the aforementioned DE Clelin Ferrell, junior DE Austin Bryant, sophomore DT Dexter Lawrence, and Wilkins, a junior defensive tackle. As they should have, they consistently outclassed Syracuse’s OL. Ferrell caused problems all night long; Bryant has the strength to throw OTs around; Lawrence clogged up the middle with ease.
But Wilkins only flashed: He had a couple of interior pressures with good off-ball explosiveness and excellent strength through a gap, as well as a nice play on a QB sneak down at the goal line, but that was about it. He struggled closing on the QB in space, failed to anchor against double teams, and had a costly roughing the passer penalty on a 3rd down stop.
He’s got nice upper body power and great bend for his size, but he doesn’t consistently show a blend of traits that make him a top-tier prospect.