In hindsight, a weird game on Friday the 13th should have been expected. Syracuse stunned No. 2 Clemson 27-24 to get its first win over a team ranked in the top two of the AP Top 25 poll in more than 30 years. The Orange entered Friday night 1-22 all-time against teams ranked that high with their lone prior win coming 17-9 over No. 1 Nebraska in 1984.
From the beginning, it felt like an upset was brewing. Syracuse scored first, Clemson made uncharacteristic mistakes (that applies both to players and coach Dabo Swinney), and star quarterback Kelly Bryant left the game after taking a massive hit just before halftime.
The result is stunning -- Cuse's third win over a defending national champion all-time -- but there's a lot to break down. So let's get to it. Here are four things to know from Friday night's upset.
1. Clemson's defensive front four can only do so much: This was a strange game in that it defied traditional defensive logic. Typically, if you control the line of scrimmage, you control the game. Clemson's defensive front four is as good as any unit in the country at controlling the line of scrimmage. They had four sacks in the first quarter alone and kept quarterback Eric Dungey on the run all night. Even though Syracuse was able to wear down Clemson's defense, that front was still disruptive. That's usually enough. But Dungey made lots of big passes, averaging 8.4 yards per toss, and coach Dino Babers did an excellent job of calling plays to feed receiver Steve Ishmael and tight end Ravian Pierce. Cuse ran creative routes, won one-on-one on the sidelines and sat receivers in zone pockets to exploit coverages. It was a rough day for the Clemson pass defense.
2. The Tigers have kicking issues that need addressing: How big is the season-ending injury to starting kicker Greg Huegel now? Clemson has to improve the kicking game or play around it. Chances are that it will have to be the latter. Kicker Alex Spence was 1 of 3 on the night, missing a 35-yarder and a 38-yarder. Those are both supposed to be well within makeable range. Moving forward, Clemson needs to re-imagine its game plan on third-down situations when in plus territory. By the way, the Tigers were 2 of 11 on third downs and 0 for 1 on fourth down.
3. The injuries to Kelly Bryant are a massive concern: Bryant's health was an issue coming into this game even if Clemson didn't make it out to be one. He was clearly not 100 percent (or anything close to it) during the first half and probably shouldn't have been in the game at all when he was viciously (but legally) tackled near halftime. That tackle knocked Bryant out for the game with a concussion. Zerrick Cooper wasn't able to spark the offense single-handedly in Bryant's absence. Swinney tried to make up the difference with some risks -- the failed fake punt in the fourth quarter comes to mind -- and the calls didn't work.
Clemson, what are you doing!? pic.twitter.com/qHQW69c6ou— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 14, 2017
How long Bryant is out remains to be seen. Cooper wasn't efficient at all when he relieved Bryant in Week 6 against Wake Forest, paving the way for Hunter Johnson to come in instead. Cooper was better against Syracuse -- 10-of-14 passing -- but took some critical sacks as well. The quarterback situation moving forward will be something to monitor.
4. Syracuse was always going to knock someone off it wasn't supposed to: It happened last season against No. 17 Virginia Tech at home. It seemed like only a matter of time before it happened again. This was a trap game in the making. It was a short week for Clemson, on the road with an injured quarterback against a team that likes to spread it out and go fast. That's a tough matchup even if the overall talent gap is wide. Babers is a great coach, and he called a nice game. He has a solid dual-threat signal-caller in Dungey, a go-to wideout who led the nation in receptions coming into this game, and an under-appreciated defense. Syracuse's schedule was so brutal that it was entirely possible for this team to be good yet miss a bowl. After this win, though, a six-win season is totally possible. Babers has an impressive group, even if unheralded.