Syracuse rides a two-game winning streak as it visits No. 2 Clemson today at 3:30 p.m. in Death Valley. The Orange (4-4, 2-2 ACC) is coming off a bye week after securing back-to-back wins over No. 19 Virginia Tech and at Boston College.
Clemson (8-0, 5-0 ACC) returns home after beating No. 22 Florida State. The Tigers rank No. 2 in the latest College Football Playoff Committee Rankings.
So who has the edge in this key ACC Atlantic Division battle?
Eric Dungey vs. Clemson’s defensive line: If Syracuse is to have any success moving the football Dungey has to make quick and accurate passes to neutralize a Clemson pass rush that leads the ACC and ranks second nationally in sacks. The Orange has had their issues pass blocking, as they have allowed 22 sacks. Obviously, Dungey wants to keep things short and stay in front of the changes. If Syracuse gets in third-and-long situations it could be a long day for Dungey facing that Clemson pass rush. Advantage: Clemson
Amba Etta-Tawo vs. Clemson’s secondary: Statistically, Clemson’s defense is ranked among the best in the country in just about every passing category. However, did Florida State expose a weakness as the Tigers were called for pass interference five times and charged with four? The Seminoles just threw the ball up for grabs and more times than not the Tigers were called for interference and every one of them was the correct call. Etta-Tawo leads the ACC with 66 receptions for a league high 1,074 yards and seven touchdowns. He is averaging 16.3 yards per reception and 134.2 yards per game. At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, Etta-Tawo would seem to have an advantage against the Tigers. However, safety Jadar Johnson will be back on the field after straining his calf muscle in last week’s win at Florida State. Johnson leads the Tigers with four interceptions. FSU did not attack the Clemson secondary deep until Johnson was out of the game. Advantage: Clemson
Deshaun Watson vs. Syracuse secondary: While Clemson’s secondary is one of the nation’s best, the same cannot be said for the Orange. Syracuse is allowing 251.5 yards a game through the air, while opponents are completing 55.0 percent of their passes. The defense has allowed nine passing touchdowns to just six interceptions. Watson is completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,328 yards and 22 touchdowns. In each of the last two games, Watson has thrown for 378 yards and has totaled more than 400 overall. His 22 touchdown passes are tied for first in the ACC. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: Syracuse’s tempo will give the Tigers a little bit of trouble and it will score some points. However, the Orange’s defense should offer the Clemson offense little resistance. As long as the Tigers execute the way I think they will, then they should have little trouble in getting their ninth win of the season. This is a game where Watson should be able to pad his stats and increase his stock in the Heisman Trophy race.
Prediction: Clemson 49, Syracuse 24