Last year, I called Syracuse and Clemson a trap game for the Tigers. But it was only based off of circumstance. It wasn’t because the Orange was the better team (they weren’t). But they did play the better game.
So much has changed since SU pulled off one of the biggest upsets in program history on both sides. For starters, Kelly Bryant dipped out of town after getting benched in what he called “a slap in the face” move by the coaching staff. Into the fold comes the real Golden Boy, Trevor Lawrence. The Orange is also without its top two receivers from a year ago. Heck, both teams enter this one as two of the remaining 21 undefeated teams in college football.
A lot has also stayed the same. The Tigers return a menacing defensive line, which could claim all four spots on the All-ACC team. Meanwhile, the Orange returns its All-ACC caliber quarterback who willed the team to victory last season.
Now, the circumstances change. Syracuse is on the road, Clemson doesn’t have an ailing quarterback, both teams are undefeated and neither team is operating on a short week. So a lot more is going to have to go right for the Orange this time around.
Defense Can’t Be a Fluke
Let’s list a couple of national statistics and you can guess which team is which.
Team A: 2nd in 3rd down defense, 5th in red zone defense, 12th in sacks, 2nd in interceptions
Team B: 30th in 3rd down defense, 25th in red zone defense, 2nd in sack, last in interceptions
The dead giveaway is the interceptions, but Syracuse is Team A and Clemson is Team B. That’s right, the Orange stacks up that impressively amongst the country through four games. But now, SU is playing the best quarterback, offensive line and overall team it will face all season. Defense is going to decide this game. If the Orange proves that their unit is as good as this early season advertisement, then the game will be decided by one possession.
Hit Trevor Lawrence
So far this season, the Tigers’ prized prospect has only been sacked once. Yes, he has a phenomenal offensive line in front of him, but Lawrence’s quick release also prevents negative plays. As I mentioned before, SU is 12th in the country in sacks. That needs to continue this week against the Tigers for the Orange to have a chance. Lawrence is a true freshman. Albeit he may be crowned the Chosen One, he’s still young and he still makes mistakes. A lot of that pressure falls on Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman to get the pass rush going like they have all season and make their presence felt. Because if they do, Lawrence will make rookie mistakes and the Orange offense must capitalize on the short field.
Establish the Run Game
Dabo Swinney has an unwavering respect for Syrcuse quarterback Eric Dungey. So much so that he even said he hoped the senior would forgo his final year of eligibility so he wouldn’t have to face him again. Clemson is surely game planning for a heavy Orange aerial attack, but believe it or not, Syracuse actually has the ninth best rushing attack in the country at 278 yards per game. While you may think that’s largely thanks to Dungey’s legs, the quarterback’s lead over the next best guy is only 8 yards. Moe Neal has produced a big season to date and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the ground. Complement that with Dontae Strickland, who has thrived in his secondary role, and freshman Jarveon Howard’s emergence and you have a solid four headed monster patrolling the Orange’s backfield. The Clemson defensive line is going to present a new challenge to the Syracuse offensive line. Usually the passing game sets up the run, but the Tigers have so many disruptors on the defensive line that it may not matter. The early development of the offensive line is going to be the difference of whether this offense can balance out the play calling, or else expect a pretty one-dimensional success rate from the Orange offense.