It seems like every week, SU is finding one way or another to make this season a special one. In week one against Western Michigan, Eric Dungey set the single-game rushing record for an SU quarterback. Against Wagner, he tied the school record for most TD passes in a game with 5. Week 3 saw the Orange beat Florida State for the first time since 1966 and a week 4 win over UConn has SU at 4-0 for the first time since the 1991.
Week 5 presents a similar opportunity for a great moment as the Orange head to Death Valley to take on No. 3 Clemson and we all remember what happened the last time these teams squared off. But that was last year, now the Tigers are fully reloaded for another run at the ‘Cuse and they’ve got plenty of talent to get their revenge. These are the guys SU must keep in check if they want to pull off another incredible upset.
The freshman sensation (#1 overall recruit in the country according to 247 Sports) was named the Tigers’ starting quarterback on Monday and after the newly-demoted Kelly Bryant announced his intent to transfer on Wednesday, all of the pressure now lies squarely on the shoulders of the Georgia native, but they’re shoulders built for pressure. Lawrence has impressed at every level he’s played at and his first four collegiate games have been no different. Even in splitting time with Bryant, he’s still averaging 150 yards per game and already has nine touchdowns in just 60 attempts. That means he’s finding the end zone once in every seven throws. For a little comparison, Heisman front runners Tua Tagovailoa and Will Grier are averaging a TD at nearly the exact same rate. Lawrence is a special, some even say, generational talent. Just because he’s a true freshman starting the first game of his college career doesn’t mean he’s going to have any growing pains because from what we’ve seen out of Trevor Lawrence, he doesn’t even know the definition of the phrase.
When we previewed the players to watch for the Tigers last year, we felt that the Clemson defense was so darn talented that we needed to up the preview to four standouts just so we could include a pair of defenders. This season, we’re upping the ante and treating the entire defensive front as one because they’re just that good. Clemson has the fourth-best defense in the country, allowing just a touch over 251 yards a game. But, as it often is with the Tigers, the eye-popping stat comes when you look at how frequently the get to the quarterback. Through the season’s first four games, Dabo Swinney’s squad is second in the country with 16 sacks (Boston College has 19) and that’s thanks in large part to its loaded front four. The combination of Clelin Ferrell (5.0), Christian Wilkins (4.5), Austin Bryant (3.0) and Dexter Lawrence have combined for nearly 80% of the team’s sacks on top of another 17 tackles for loss. The front four is so good in fact that Xavier Thomas, the #4 recruit in the 2018 class per 247 Sports, isn’t even starting. Some mock drafts for next April even have three of four of them going in the first round. Needless to say this front will be the best SU sees all season. Expect them to have a massive impact on the game.
Lost in the shuffle between the Lawrence-Bryant quarterback battle and the stellar defensive front is running back Travis Etienne. The sophomore from Louisiana put together an impressive freshman campaign, leading the Tigers in rushing at 766 yards on just 107 carries (7.2 ypc). He’s followed that up with an even more outstanding sophomore campaign. Through the season’s first four games, Etienne again leads Clemson, but now with over 90 yards a game and an astounding 8.5 ypc (third in the country). That’s not to mention he also already has five touchdowns this season. Frequently mentioned as one of the fastest players in all of college football, flashed some of his trademark explosiveness last time met up with the Orange, ripping off a 52-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. If anything that explosiveness has become more potent in the last year and is certainly something SU will have to keep an eye out for on Saturday.
From Left to Right: Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant