By Will Vandervort.
Here is a look at all the top matchups for today’s Syracuse at No. 20 Clemson game, which will kick off at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
Clemson’s run defense vs. Syracuse running game: In the last six games, Clemson’s opponents have rushed for an average of 65.8 yards per game. The Tigers held BC’s powerful run game, which was averaging 315.7 yards per game, to a season-low 120 yards. The Orange is averaging 192 yards a game on the ground and last year gashed the Clemson defense for 323 yards. Running back Devante McFarlane, who had just 21 yards prior to last week, rushed for 114 yards on 10 carries against Wake Forest. He had 95 yards on six carries against the Tigers last year. Advantage: Clemson
Cole Stoudt vs. Syracuse defense: It will be interesting to see how Syracuse defends Clemson. In the last two games, Louisville and Boston College have played coverage and forced the Tigers to run the ball or take what they could in the passing game with short to medium passes. But the Orange prefers to blitz and make the quarterback feel as uncomfortable as possible. They like to bring their safeties and take chances on the back end. They have 20 sacks this season and Stoudt, as we all know, is not very mobile. Advantage: Syracuse
A.J. Long vs. Clemson’s defense: The true freshman quarterback has played well in his first two appearances. He came in against FSU and led the Orange to two second half touchdowns while throwing for 167 yards. At Wake Forest last week, he completed 22 of 32 passes for 171 yards as he became the first quarterback in Syracuse history to win his first start as a true freshman. But Clemson isn’t Wake Forest and playing in Death Valley will be much louder than at BB&T Field. First off, there will be 55,000 more fans than what he saw and heard at Wake and he will be playing a Clemson defense that ranks fifth in the nation total defense and has held its last three opponents to their season low in total yards. The Tigers have held four of the last five overall to season lows. Clemson leads the nation in tackle for loss and is third in sacks as well as leads the country in third down defense. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson special teams vs. Syracuse’s special teams: Ammon Lakip has made 9 of his last 10 kicks and is 12 of 16 overall with two 45 yard kicks. Bradley Pinion has been a big weapon all year and his 10 punts in last week’s win over BC allowed the Tigers to win the battle of field position, especially in the second half. Syracuse kicker Cole Murphy is 9 of 10 with a long of 49 yards, while punter Riley Dixon is averaging 43 yards per punt and has six punts longer than 50 yards. Adam Humphries could have a big game in punt returns as the Orange is allowing their opponents to average 15.1 yards per return. Humphries already has one return for a 72-yard touchdown this season. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s running game vs. Syracuse run defense: Syracuse is giving up just 3.2 yards per carry, while Clemson on the other hand is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. This doesn’t seem like a very good matchup for the Tigers. It also doesn’t help that Clemson lost its most productive running back for the season with a torn ACL in Adam Choice. The good news is C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman broke off touchdown runs of 32 and 17 yards in last week’s win at BC so that should help with their confidence. Also, Tyshon Dye could make is first appearance in a Clemson uniform. It will be interesting to see what affect he can have in the running game, if any at all right now. Advantage: Syracuse
Bottom line: Syracuse is a much better team than what most expect and it has improved offensively since the changeover at offensive coordinator from George McDonald to Tim Lester. Long has also sparked the offense and has given it confidence it was missing earlier in the season. But Clemson’s defense is playing at an elite level right now. The defense has scored in each of its four home games this season and I can see that happening again tonight. The Orange is a much improved team, but they are not to the level of Clemson just yet.
Prediction: Clemson 33, Syracuse 0