A tough away game may have just taught the Tigers a valuable lesson

Threat Level Orange

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So far, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has led his Tigers to a perfect season - GWINN DAVIS / FOR POST AND COURIER
  • GWINN DAVIS / FOR POST AND COURIER
  • So far, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has led his Tigers to a perfect season

Well, that was ... tense. Syracuse was a 30-point underdog going into last Saturday's game against Clemson, and that spread apparently hurt their feelings. After seeing lesser versions of the option offense earlier this year from Wofford and a hampered-by-injury Georgia Tech, the Tigers seemed downright stunned when sophomore walk-on quarterback Zach Mahoney cranked up the Orange Wave's fast, misdirection-heavy scheme.

Quite simply, Clemson defense wasn't ready. They repeatedly gave up big-yardage gashes to Syracuse RB's George Morris and Jordan Fredericks, but Mahoney was the real star of this show, repeatedly pulling off QB-keepers that left heads spinning and showing some serious guts with a 28-yard, possession-saving bomb to Steve Ishmael that left his hand just as DE Shaq Lawson was taking him to the ground.

Other than a couple of fumbles, one of which came courtesy of third-stringer Kelly Bryant, and an interception, the offense was next-level for most of the game. Clemson QB DeShaun Watson was single-handedly responsible for 461 yards of offense, and there was a refreshingly automatic feel to the way the Tigers clock-chewing, game-icing final drive unfolded down the stretch.

But it was a tough game, and it was not without casualties. Big ones. Wayne Gallman, the cornerstone of the Tigers' ground game, rolled his ankle and as of Monday is day-to-day. Mackensie Alexander is also a question mark, as is Ray-Ray McCloud.

Will those injuries be felt against Wake Forest at home this weekend? Honestly, probably not. Zac Brooks should be an effective enough replacement if Gallman has to sit out, and though Alexander has been a vital part of the Tigers defense, particularly in the secondary, his teammates will no doubt be far more ready to play than they were against Syracuse.

John Wolford has been an effective QB at times for Wake Forest this season, and his stats from the Notre Dame game are surprisingly solid: 19/30 for 219 yards. The Deacons' ground game is somewhat one-dimensional, relying mostly on freshman RB Tyler Bell for the last few games. WRs KJ Brent and Tabari Hines have both been big targets this season in the air, but let's face it: Clemson's biggest obstacle right now is Clemson.

The position this team is in right now is something they're not used to. All season, the motivating factors for the Tigers have been simple: To get and keep the respect they felt like they deserved, to overcome their past missteps, and to beat everyone they were supposed to beat and maybe a couple of teams that they weren't.

Well, all of that has been accomplished now, and there's never been a bigger bullseye on the team's back. Syracuse played on a level they haven't reached all season, and it was because they had a shot to take out the No. 1 team in the country. That's what fired them up. How can anyone expect Wake or Carolina to play any differently? The work it takes for a football team to get to the top of the mountain is exhausting, but it's not even close to the amount of work it takes to stay there.

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