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Clemson defense shows out with 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles to beat previously unbeaten Syracuse 31-14

Clemson defensive end Justin Mascoll, right, forces a fumble on Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. Clemson recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Adrian Kraus/AP
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FR171451 AP
Clemson defensive end Justin Mascoll, right, forces a fumble on Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. Clemson recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Cade Klubnik threw two touchdown passes and Clemson's high-powered defense made a statement on Saturday in a dominant 31-14 victory against previously unbeaten Syracuse.

The Tigers (3-2, 1-2 ACC) sacked Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader five times, picked him off once, and forced three fumbles. They recovered two of those fumbles, the first of which came on the Orange's opening drive.

"We won the line of scrimmage," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I mean, we did a heck of a job up front. I think we won the matchups up front and created some disruption and we challenged them. We forced the issue."

On the first drive, Shrader took off for a 19-yard dash, but was hit hard and lost the ball. It was recovered by Clemson's Payton Page at the Tigers' 45-yard line. Clemson was initially called for a targeting penalty on the hit but after a review it was overturned.

"I just saw it clean," Swinney said. "And it looked worse than it was because (Shrader) didn't see him coming. He's not a defenseless player. He's running the ball and he's not sliding. He's not a guy that slides. He's a punishing runner. I know it looked worse than it was, but I thought it was a clean hit from the get-go."

The overturned call set Clemson up for a 14-yard touchdown on a pass from Klubnik to Troy Stellato for the first score of the game.

"Troy made a great play and just kept playing," Klubnik said. "He threw his hand up and I just kind of found him in the end zone and it was a great play by him, just kind of making it work."

Clemson led 21-7 at the half.

SU (4-1, 0-1) came to within 10 points early in the fourth quarter but a 32-yard rushing touchdown by Phil Mafah with just over six minutes to go sealed the game for the Tigers.

Klubnik finished 23 of 37 for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Brown caught eight balls for 153 yards and Will Shipley rushed 17 times for 66 yards and a score.

"When you've got a quarterback that can create and can throw on the run … just really proud of (Klubnik) for how he competed, and managed the game the whole day," Swinney said. "Then obviously Tyler Brown. Just a tremendous, tremendous performance. I mean, he's just gotten better and better each week. He plays hard without the ball and really has a good feel for the scramble drill."

Shrader completed 15 of 29 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 24 yards on 15 keepers. LeQuint Allen carried the ball 14 times for 56 yards. He also caught six balls for 38 yards and a score.

THE TAKEAWAY

Clemson: The Tiger's will need another strong defensive effort against Wake Forest next week. The Demon Deacons average 426 yards and 29 points per game.

Syracuse: Shrader and Allen, whose 12 combined rushing touchdowns led the nation heading into Saturday's game, were held out of the end zone.

CONTESTED RIVALRY

Clemson and Syracuse have gone head-to-head 11 times since 2013. The Tigers have won 10 of those matchups, but six of those games have been decided by 10 points or fewer. That includes Clemson's 27-21 victory a year ago.

SU's only victory against the Tigers in the last decade came on Oct. 13, 2017. Clemson was undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country at the time, but the Orange took that game 27-24.

UP NEXT

Clemson: The Tigers are home against Wake Forest on Saturday.

Syracuse: The Orange got to No. 15 University of North Carolina on Saturday.