Football

Last time they played: Syracuse throttles Clemson in 1996 Gator Bowl

Gator Bowl
Jan. 1, 1996

Syracuse 41, Clemson 0

There were questions about how Donovan McNabb would fare as Syracuse’s starting quarterback.

But after leading the Orangemen to the most lopsided bowl victory in program history, those questions were answered.

“All season long, I continued to get better and we put it all together in the bowl game,” McNabb told reporters after the game.

SU crushed then-No. 23 Clemson, a two-point favorite, 41-0 in the Gator Bowl in front of 67,940 fans in Jacksonville, Fla. McNabb took home MVP honors after throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for a score in a standout performance to cap his first season under center.

With the victory, Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni tied Dick MacPherson with three bowl victories at SU.

In the contest’s opening drive, SU running back Malcolm Thomas plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out for the first of his two rushing touchdowns and then McNabb ran one in himself for a 5-yard score.

McNabb, who completed 6-of-7 passes for 108 yards in the first frame, then connected with wide receiver Marvin Harrison for a 38-yard touchdown.

“It came so easy to us, especially in the first quarter,” Syracuse guard Cy Ellsworth told reporters after the game. “It broke their spirits, you could see it in their eyes and, in my opinion, they gave up.”

In addition to breaking its own program record and the Gator Bowl record for biggest margin of victory, Syracuse produced a Gator Bowl record 20 points in the first quarter.

From there, the Orangemen cruised.

Thomas added a 2-yard score in the third quarter and McNabb again found Harrison for a touchdown, this time from 56 yards. Harrison finished with seven catches for 173 yards, despite breaking his thumb mid-game. In the fourth quarter, McNabb hit Kaseem Sinceno from 15 yards out for the quarterback’s third and final touchdown of the game.

McNabb then left the game, having picked apart a Clemson defense that included future Philadelphia Eagles teammate Brian Dawkins. The redshirt freshman tied Syracuse’s bowl record with three passing touchdowns.

The Orangemen nearly tripled the Tigers’ offensive output — 467 yards of total offense to Clemson’s 159 — and almost doubled Clemson’s count of first downs, 21 to 12.

Defensively, Kevin Abrams picked off Tigers quarterback Nealon Greene twice and SU safety Donovin Darius racked up 10 tackles.

“Some people felt we were in this game by default,” Pasqualoni said. “We showed we were worthy of it.”

—Compiled by Phil D’Abbraccio, asst. copy editor, pmdabbra@syr.edu

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