For the second time since 1956, and for the second straight year, second-ranked Clemson will play on a Friday night as it travels to Syracuse, N.Y., to take on the Syracuse Orange in the Carrier Dome.
The Tigers (6-0, 4-0 ACC) are winners of 12 straight road games, tied with Alabama for the nation’s second longest active streak. They also own the nation’s longest active winning streak as well with 11 straight wins overall.
Clemson has won 20 straight games against ACC Atlantic Teams.
Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 ACC) is coming of a 27-24 win over Pittsburgh. The Orange are 2-6 all-time against the defending national champions, with their last win over such in 1998 versus Michigan.
Clemson vs. The home crowd: Once again, the Tigers will enter a visiting venue where the atmosphere should be an electric welcome for the defending national champions. On Wednesday, Syracuse Athletics sent out an e-mail message to select groups, dropping the cheapest tickets from $45 to $30, as part of a promotion to spur what the school hopes will be the largest crowd of the season. Orange head coach Dino Babers called out Syracuse fans earlier this week and said filling the Carrier Dome was a “civic challenge” and how the stadium can serve as a home field advantage for the Orange. So far this season, Clemson has been able to handle hostile atmospheres relatively well. The Tigers quieted a sellout crowd at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville by taking their opening drive and scoring a touchdown. Two weeks later at Virginia Tech, Clemson jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the Hokies’ fans could stop jumping from their “Enter Sandman” entrance. Usually, it’s easy to give an advantage of 49,250 (the capacity of the Carrier Dome) the edge in such a matchup, but Clemson has been so good at handling hostile crowds on the road, and not just this year, but dating back to 2015 when the 12-game road winning streak started, you have to go with the Tigers. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s defensive line vs. the Syracuse tempo: This will be the matchup to watch. The Orange love to get up and down the field and wear down their opponents as Syracuse is averaging 86 plays a game, which leads the nation. Though Clemson is deep on defense overall and can handle the pace better than others, the Tigers are thin at one very important position – defensive end. So far this season defensive end Austin Bryant is averaging 44 snaps per game, while fellow defensive end Clelin Ferrell is playing 51. However, in the Tigers’ most competitive game to date, against Auburn in Week 2, Bryant took a season-high 60 snaps, while Ferrell had a season-high 67. If the Orange can keep the game relatively close, then Babers’ up-tempo offense could possibly slow down a Clemson pass rush that ranks third nationally in sacks with 22. Advantage: Syracuse
Kelly Bryant vs. The Orange defense: Syracuse’s defense is much improved. However, the Orange likes to sellout vs. the run and will bring lots of pressure. That means Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant will have opportunities to make plays down field if Syracuse stays true to who it is. When teams have generally gone straight man coverage on the Tigers, Bryant and his talented core of wide receivers have made them pay. Wake Forest did it on the opening series of the game and then backed out of it after Bryant hit Cain for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Once a team backs out and goes zone that will usually open things up for Bryant and the running game. However, how effective of a runner will Bryant be after spraining his left ankle against the Demon Deacons? Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Bryant is “ready to go.” If that is the case, then the Tigers should be able to run the ball consistently against the ‘Cuse to solve any zone it throws at them. If not, then someone else in the running game will have to step up. Regardless, I think Clemson overall has too many weapons and will find a way to get the job done. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s defense vs. Eric Dungey: Everything Syracuse does runs through the quarterback and the Orange has one of the ACC’s best running their offense. Eric Dungey is second in the ACC in passing, averaging 300.3 yards per game, while completing 64.4 percent of his passes. He also leads the team in rushing with 325 yards and eight touchdowns. He is averaging 4.06 yards per carry. He has 17 total touchdowns. At 6-foot-3, 207 pounds, Dungey will challenge the Clemson defense like no one since Louisville’s Lamar Jackson in Week 3. However, he gets the ball out of his hands quicker than Jackson does and makes good decisions for the most part. He has thrown just four interceptions in 261 attempts. However, Clemson’s secondary has played well for much of the year, especially its starters. The Tigers are allowing just 165.5 yards per game through the air while opponents are completing just 52.8 percent of their passes. Opponents are averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. The Tigers have five interceptions. Those numbers would be even more impressive if the first team defense played the whole game. Against Louisville, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, Clemson gave up gave two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of each game after the game had already been decided. The Tigers have allowed eight touchdowns all year, and six of them came in the final quarter after they already led by at least 24 points. No team has scored more than seven points against Clemson through three quarters. In the first three quarters, the Clemson defense is allowing just 4.3 points, 9.7 first downs, 71 rushing yards, 105 passing yards and 176 total yards per game. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: Though Swinney says Kelly Bryant’s left ankle is fine, it still will be interesting to watch for tonight. How well will he be able to run on it and will it affect the Clemson offense if he can’t? If Bryant is healthy, then the Tigers should roll. If not, then the game is probably a little more interesting than Tiger fans want. However, Clemson has too much talent and should be able to overcome it in the end.
Prediction: Clemson 35, Syracuse 17