SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Clemson was rolling, and so was Travis Etienne. The junior running back, in fact, had a clear path to the end zone late in the first quarter Saturday. Then, on Syracuse's 2-yard line, Etienne met his match.
Orange defensive back Andre Cisco led with his right shoulder, popping Etienne to the ground, appearing to connect with Etienne's neck or head. Etienne lied on the Carrier Dome turf for a few moments, looking up at the lights, as Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence turned to the sideline and called for medical assistance.
Etienne left the field under his own power, and reserve running back Lyn-J Dixon took his place in the backfield for the rest of the drive, until Lawrence wheeled to the left and into the end zone for a 1-yard score and a 14-point Tigers lead.
It didn't take long for Etienne's status to become clear. Though he had absorbed a rough hit, Etienne was back in the game for Clemson's following drive, even running the ball a couple of times.
What appeared to be an injury scare for Clemson, and Etienne, proved to be a false alarm.
Word spread earlier in the week that tickets had sold out for Saturday's contest, marking the first sellout for a football game at the Carrier Dome since 1998.
Indeed, the Orange faithful came out in force, providing Clemson with an atmosphere it hadn't yet encountered this season. By kickoff, there was hardly an open seat in the Dome, with a sea of orange — and not the friendly Clemson kind — filling the venue.
The Dome was rocking throughout the game, especially early when Clemson punted on its first drive. The Tigers would get out to an early 14-0 lead, but the Syracuse fans in attendance kept the noise level high. It was less than two years ago that the Orange upset then-No. 2 Clemson in the Dome, and the Syracuse fans Saturday were thirsty for another season-defining win.
Big first half for Tee Higgins
Wide receiver Tee Higgins had a good start to the season the first two games, recording four catches each against Georgia Tech and Texas A&M, hauling in a touchdown in the opener.
The 6-4 junior kicked things into another gear Saturday. By halftime, Higgins had already recorded seven catches for 150 yards, including a 58-yard reception midway through the second quarter. Higgins caught a tight ball from quarterback Trevor Lawrence on the left sideline, before shifting his body and flying across the field.
A 15-yard penalty on Clemson pushed coach Dabo Swinney's team back to the Orange's 23-yard-line, possibly preventing another Tigers touchdown, but Clemson took a 14-point lead on a 40-yard field goal off the leg of B.T. Potter.
Interception for an interception
The stage was set for Syracuse to make things more interesting early in the third quarter. Trailing by 11, the Orange forced Lawrence to throw his fourth interception of the season and took over at Clemson's 9-yard line. The home fans exploded.
The good vibes wouldn't last, though, as Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito gave the Tigers the ball right back, throwing the ball into coverage as he got chased down on Syracuse's first play of the drive.
The pass was intercepted by Clemson cornerback Mario Goodrich, and three plays later Lawrence found wide receiver Amari Rodgers for an 87-yard touchdown.