Travis Etienne rushed for a career-high 203 yards and three touchdowns as No. 3 Clemson held off Syracuse 27-23 Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams at Memorial Stadium.
Etienne, a sophomore running back, scored on a 2-yard run with 41 seconds left, capping the Tigers’ rally from a 23-13 deficit in the final 13 minutes.
Clemson improved to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in the ACC for a second straight season and for a fifth time overall under Coach Dabo Swinney.
Syracuse, which entered the game 4-0 for the first time since 1991, slipped to 4-1, 0-1.
Etienne’s performance helped the Tigers overcome the loss of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was making the first start of his career.
Lawrence completed 10 of 15 passes for 93 yards before leaving the game for good after a hit by Syracuse defensive back Evan Foster with 4:56 left in the first half. Lawrence suffered a head injury and his status for next week’s game at Wake Forest is uncertain.
Etienne almost singlehandedly saved the Tigers. He rushed for 85 yards on Clemson’s final three possessions, scoring on runs of 26 and 2 yards.
Etienne has 487 yards on 43 carries in the Tigers’ last three games for an average of 9.0 yards per carry.
Syracuse, which stunned then-No. 2 Clemson 27-24 last season at the Carrier Dome, jumped out to a 6-0 lead by capping each of its first two possessions with Andre Szmyt field goals, the first from 35 yards out and the second from 51 yards.
Clemson took the lead, 7-6, with 54 seconds left in the first quarter on a 1-yard run by Etienne to cap a 10-play, 54-yard drive. The Orange responded with a seven-play, 70-yard drive culminating with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Eric Dungey to pull ahead 13-7 with 7:31 left in the half.
Syracuse added a third Szmyt field goal, this time from 32 yards, for a 16-7 halftime lead.
Dungey, who completed 16 of 23 passes for 173 yards in the first half, finished 26 of 41 for 250 yards and an interception.
Clemson’s defense tightened up in the second half and the Tigers responded with a pair of third-quarter field goals by Greg Huegel to close their deficit to 16-13.
Clemson’s Amari Rodgers fumbled a punt at the Tigers’ 10-yard line on the final play of the third quarter, setting up a 1-yard plunge by Dungey with 12:58 remaining for a 23-13 lead.
—Field Level Media