By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff (ABC/ESPN2) as No. 3 Clemson visits Syracuse.
Clemson enters the game with a 4-0 overall record, including a 2-0 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Syracuse comes in with a 2-2 record and this will be its first game as a member of the ACC. The Tigers have won nine straight conference games and Syracuse has won six straight at home.
Quarterback: In three games, Syracuse sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt has been flawless, completing 33-of-43 passes for 468 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed 12 times for 91 yards and two scores. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is off to another good season as he has thrown for 994 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. In fact, he has thrown 166 straight passes without an interception.
Running back: Roderick McDowell is expected to start after suffering an ankle injury last week in the win over Wake Forest. The Tigers got big contributions from D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson in the victory as the three totaled four touchdowns last week. Syracuse’s Jerome Smith has 217 yards and six touchdowns this season. He also has one touchdown reception. His seven touchdowns lead the ACC. Prince-Tyson Gulley led the ‘Cuse with nine rushing touchdowns last season.
Wide receiver / Tight ends: Syracuse boasts 17 different receivers that have caught at least one pass this season, which is tied with Cincinnati for sixth in the FBS this season. Four players have at least 10 receptions, led by H-back Ashton Broyld’s 19. Wideouts Jarrod West (211 yards) and Chris Clark (202 yards) have at least 200 receiving yards this season. Clemson has 19 different receivers that have caught at least one pass, which ranks second nationally. Sammy Watkins is off to a great start with 25 catches for 355 yards and two scores. Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Gerome Hopper have 12 receptions each. Watkins, Bryant and Hopper have two scores each.
Offensive line: Syracuse captain Macky MacPherson, grandson of former ‘Cuse head coach and College Football Hall of Famer Dick MacPherson, is in his third year as the Orange’s starting center. MacPherson has started all 29 games the past three years and blocked for 1,000-yard rushers Antwon Bailey and Jerome Smith. Dabo Swinney calls center Ryan Norton the MVP of the team through the first four games of the season. Kalon Davis will start over David Beasley at left guard again this week. Gif Timothy should be back at right tackle.
Defensive line: Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley leads the Orange with four sacks and has five tackles for loss. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley has an ACC leading six sacks, while freshman Shaq Lawson has 4.5 tackles for loss. Grady Jarrett is one of the best defensive tackles in the ACC.
Linebackers: Stephone Anthony has a team-high 44 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, while Spencer Shuey has 39 tackles and has recovered two fumbles. Freshmen Ben Boulware got his first interception in last week’s win over Wake. Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch has 22 tackles and an interception. He also has a team-leading three passes broken up. Maquis Spruill has 18 tackles and three tackles for loss.
Secondary: The Tigers continue to get better. Wake quarterbacks completed just 19 of 30 passes last week and only had 60 passing yards in the second half when they were in obvious passing situations the whole half. Corner Bashaud Breeland totaled eight tackles and had a sack last week. Breeland has three sacks this year. Syracuse senior Keon Lyn is one of the best cover corners in the ACC. He was fifth in the interceptions and sixth in passes broken up in the Big East last year. The Orange secondary has three seniors starting in the backfield. Syracuse has given up seven touchdown passes already this season.
Special teams: Placekicker Chandler Catanzaro is Clemson’s all-time leading scorer, while punter Bradley Pinion is averaging a net 40.8 yards per punt. The Tigers are still seeking for a long punt return or kickoff return, though Humphries did have a 28-yard punt return last week. Syracuse has a new kicker in Ryan Norton, who is 3-4 on field goals with a long of 34. Punter Riley Dixon is averaging 45.1 yards per punt in each of the last three games and ranks fifth in the ACC at 44.4 gross yards per punt.
Prediction: The outcome of this game is going to be based on a couple of things, can the Tigers protect quarterback Tajh Boyd and can Syracuse run the football with any consistency? The Orange is averaging 159.8 yards a game on the ground and that’s with games against Wagner and Tulane included. Hunt has done a good job since coming in the Wagner game, but without a running game against Clemson, his effectiveness at quarterback will be limited. Clemson’s playmakers will have an opportunity to make some big plays as long as they can block and protect Boyd. If the Tigers execute like they did in the second half against NC State and the whole Wake Forest game, then this game could get away from the Orange fairly early.
Clemson 35, Syracuse 7