The Orange defense must keep game breakers like Sammy Watkins in check to have a chance Saturday.
Without a doubt, this Clemson Tigers team is the most talented team that has come to the Carrier Dome in a long time – maybe even back to the Auburn team that travelled to the Dome in 2001 that went undefeated just two years later.
Here are some keys for the Orange to keep the game close and maybe have a chance to win it in the end.
Matchup of DBs vs. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Clemson offense:
Tajh Boyd is a legitimate Heisman hopeful leading a team that could possibly go to the National Championship game. The Orange’s defensive backs have shown a tendency to lose a receiver early in the year (see Allen Robinson and Tony Jones). The defensive backs will be called upon this week to try to contain Sammy Watkins. Watkins is about as explosive a playmaker as there is in college football. Watkins can score any time he touches the ball thanks in part to his 4.3 40-yard dash speed. Syracuse’s defensive backs need to stay tough in coverage and cannot miss the tackles that they have missed in previous weeks to keep Watkins from ripping off a huge run after the catch, like this one.
Offense vs. Clemson D
The Tigers have the 25th raked scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 17.3 points per game. Granted, Clemson has played South Carolina State, NC State and Wake Forest after facing Georgia in Week 1. Even so, the Clemson defense allowed 35 points to Georgia, who absolutely torched LSU last week with 44 points. Syracuse needs to keep doing what it has been doing on offense with Terrel Hunt at the helm. Yes, Clemson’s defense is bigger, faster and stronger than Tulane’s or Wagner’s defenses, but Hunt has done a good job finding the open man, not being afraid to dump the ball off to a running back, and taking off and running when he needs to. Hunt cannot get away from what has made him successful, even if the other team’s defense is better.
Offense needs to score first
With that being said, it is important that the Orange get on the board first. There is going to be a huge crowd on hand, and while it may not be a sellout, the Carrier Dome crowd will likely be the largest in a while for a football game. It is vital for Terrel Hunt and the offense to score a touchdown before Clemson scores. If the Orange can score first, the crowd will get more into the game. The Dome will be as loud for a football game as it had been since Dick MacPherson, who will be in the Dome, was manning the sidelines. If the Orange scores first, the momentum can swing in its direction and the crowd can have something to cheer and go crazy about.
Impact of the crowd
Speaking of the crowd, it needs to be loud. Make the Dome a home field advantage for once. The crowd is going to be big, so it might as well be loud, too. The crowd needs to get into Tajh Boyd’s head and rattle the Heisman hopeful. This does not just fall on the student section, but the entire stadium. The Dome can be the Loud House again this weekend with a near sellout crowd, and if the Dome is rocking tomorrow, the Orange may be able to feed off the energy.
Shafer vs. Dabo
Clemson has an edge in the coaching category. Dabo Swinney has been the head coach at Clemson since the middle of the 2008 season. And despite calling Jerome Smith “a load” earlier in the week, he knows what he is talking about. In his four full seasons as the head coach, Dabo has led the Tigers to nine or more wins and a bowl game, including one BCS Bowl as the ACC Champion. Scott Shafer’s head coaching career is just four games deep, and even though he did a great job reshaping the Syracuse defense when he came to the Hill, it’s not exactly the same as leading a team to a conference title and a BCS Bowl.
Posted by: Seth Goldberg