Syracuse prepares for its trip to Clemson with a chance to turn history into fairytale. The Orange is 4-0 for the first time since 1991, but can still accomplish much more. As if Syracuse fans needed more reason to get excited, a win would over the Tigers would almost guarantee the Orange gets ranked for the first time in 17 years. Last year’s upset aside, leaving Death Valley with a victory will be a tall order for SU. However, based on recent history, here’s a few things that may help the Orange cover that 24-point spread, or hey, maybe even win.
Hold on to the ball
Pretty simple here. Syracuse is not expected to win this game, which means priority number one should be not giving Clemson any additional help. When SU beat the Tigers last year, Eric Dungey threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. In addition, with the exception of one lost fumble, the Orange as a whole played a rather clean game. One thing it didn’t do though was take the ball away. That may be a tough task this time around, but with the turnaround SU’s defense has enjoyed thus far, a better showing is certainly possible.
Win the battle up front (on both sides)
No matter the opponent, one thing Dino Babers has consistently stressed is the importance of winning the battle up front. Clemson ranks second in the nation in rush yards per attempt, and going on the road to face them doesn’t help either. It is expected that Syracuse will look to establish the running game, but if it can’t, SU can’t lose sight on the other side of the ball.
The last time these two teams met, the Orange tallied four sacks, which was also a quarter of all its sacks on the season. Through just four games this year, SU already has 13 sacks, ranking third in the ACC. The play Syracuse has received from its big guys up front has also seemed to fuel the rest of the defense behind them. For one, the secondary’s job looks like it’s been easier, as the Orange’s next interception will already double last season’s total. All in all, Clemson has allowed the third-fewest sacks in the ACC so far, meaning the job of SU’s defensive line won’t be easy.
Spread the love in the passing game
Not helping the cause at all, Babers announced that tight end Ravian Pierce would be “out for a while” after not playing against UConn. Maybe the unproven but promising Aaron Hackett can make an impact in Pierce’s absence, but if the Orange wants to have a chance, it needs to spread the love around regardless. Clemson has the second-highest rate of opponent running plays called in the entire country at a whopping 73.49 percent. Furthermore, through four games, the Tigers have had just one team put up a legitimate fight. It was Texas A&M, who behind quarterback Kellen Mond, completed passes to eight different players, doubling the next highest total by a Clemson opponent this season. Sure enough, the Aggies were in that game until the end, ultimately coming up a mere two points short.
Not having Pierce certainly makes things tougher, but that didn’t show against UConn. Nine different players caught passes, which set a new season high. Highlighting the solid showing was junior Sean Riley and sophomore Nykeim Johnson, who both turned heads after seemingly receiving expanded roles last Saturday.
It should be considered that the Orange got the ball to seven players through the air in last year’s upset, a total it reached just four times the whole season. With that said, the increased usage of Riley, Johnson and others may be a result of Babers examining who he’d be comfortable spreading the love to against Clemson. SU’s offense typically favors the run, but it may be smart to show the Tigers a few different looks, especially when they haven’t been too tested by the pass this season.