Eric Dungey's big night fuels stunning upset

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Eric Dungey combines for 339 yards and three touchdowns to push Syracuse past the reigning champions in a 27-24 victory on Friday night.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — This was supposed to be the easy one for Clemson, a pushover on the road before a bye week to regroup, get healthy, get ready for a playoff push.

And then Kelly Bryant hit the turf, where the Tigers quarterback remained, motionless, for what seemed like an eternity.

And then Eric Dungey hit Steve Ishmael for a 30-yard touchdown to put Syracuse up 24-17.

And then Dungey maneuvered his offense down the field for the go-ahead, fourth-quarter field goal, as the confounded and exhausted Tigers defense succumbed to the inevitable.

And the penalties and the inexplicable fake punt and the playcalling that abandoned the run for so long and all the other Friday the 13th mojo coalesced into one of the biggest upsets of 2017, a shocking 27-24 Syracuse victory over No. 2 Clemson that could reshape the playoff race for the season’s second half.

Afterward, Dungey asked a room full of media and team personnel for a show of hands of those who thought the Orange had a chance. There were virtually no takers.

“You see,” Dungey said. “Nobody believed, but we did.”

To be sure, this was no fluke. From the outset, Syracuse played like a team that belonged, with Dungey tossing a 23-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive to set the stage.

But Clemson, too, was a mess, a shell of the team that held the nation’s longest active winning streak. On defense, the Tigers were flummoxed by Syracuse’s up-tempo attack. On offense, aside from two big runs — a 37-yard touchdown by Tavien Feaster and a 52-yard score by Travis Etienne — there was no consistency. On special teams, it was a nightmare, with two missed field goals and a disastrous fake punt that proved to be the last play Clemson would run.

The same team that so thoroughly dominated Louisville and Virginia Tech on the road seemed overwhelmed inside the Carrier Dome.

The same defense that utterly decimated Auburn’s offensive line simply couldn’t get a stop against the upstart Orange (4-3, 2-1 ACC).

The same offense that had so confidently marched through one defense after another showed no sense of identity whatsoever.

Instead, it was Syracuse — a team that won just four games last season and lost to Middle Tennessee in Week 2 — that killed the giant.

“We didn’t really handle anything well,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We just didn’t win the matchups, and they just flat out out-coached us. It’s truly that simple. If I don’t coach better than I did tonight, the rest doesn’t matter.”

When Dungey, who finished with 339 yards of offense and three touchdowns, took a knee to wind down the final seconds, the end of a 12-play drive that included three third-down conversions and drained the final 6:10 from the clock, hundreds of Syracuse fans swarmed the field, stunned in their own right by the upset. They mobbed Syracuse’s players, snapped photos to mark the moment, and a mix of fans and players and coaches jumped up and down in unison to celebrate.

“I honestly didn’t believe it was over,” Syracuse linebacker Zaire Franklin said. “I was thinking we still had to go back in and try to stop them from getting a field goal.”

Linebacker Paris Bennett put it more succinctly: “It was just surreal.”

That might be true for Clemson, too. The Tigers (6-1, 4-1) retreated to the locker room, defeated for the first time in 11 games, the second top-five team this season to lose to a massive underdog (joining Oklahoma, which fell to Iowa State last week).

This doesn’t necessarily end Clemson’s playoff hopes. It was just last November that the Tigers fell to unranked Pittsburgh in similarly shocking fashion.

“That’s a fantastic team,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “I still think they’re going to play for a national championship.”

But the odds are longer now, particularly if Bryant is to miss an extended period.

Clemson’s junior quarterback was already dinged up entering the game after taking a hit to his ankle in the second half of last week’s win against Wake Forest. Still, he went through warm-ups and looked sharp to start Friday’s contest. But as the first half wound down, Bryant was tackled to the turf on a QB keeper, smacking his head hard against the ground and remaining motionless for several minutes afterward. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney called it a likely concussion, and Bryant’s replacement, Zerrick Cooper, did little to jump-start the proceedings.

In the end, the Tigers finished with just 317 yards of offense, and even a fumble recovery for a touchdown wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Orange.

Now the page turns, and a bye week and immense questions await.

Will this be a sequel to 2016, when the Tigers used the Pitt loss as a wake-up call? Or was Friday’s game the start of an unraveling of the defending champs?

Inside the Dome, at least, it was neither. It was simply a celebration of one of the ACC’s biggest upsets in years.

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