Clemson returns to Death Valley today to take on the Syracuse Orange at Noon. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.
Some wonder just how much the quarterback saga was a distraction this week for the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 ACC) after head coach Dabo Swinney named freshman Trevor Lawrence the starter over senior Kelly Bryant, who jumped ship a day after the announcement and decided to transfer.
However, none of that drama has to do with the Clemson defense, which hopes to slow down a Syracuse offense led by Eric Dungey that embarrassed the Tigers last year in a stunning loss at the Carrier Dome.
The Orange (4-0, 1-0 ACC) come into today game leading the ACC in scoring (49.5 ppg) and total offense (523.3 ypg).
Who has the edge?
Eric Dungey vs. Clemson’s defense: Last year, Dungey completed 20-of-33 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns, while running for another 61 yards as he played a huge role in why the Orange upset the Tigers in the Carrier Dome. The senior heads into today’s game once again tearing it up in the Orange’s tempo offense. He leads the team with 354 rushing yards, while rushing for four scores. He has also thrown for 9 touchdowns and 763 yards, while completing 63.7 percent of his passes. Dungey’s ability to run and throw off the run-pass-option-plays (RPOs) extremely well make any defense vulnerable, including Clemson’s. He did a great job also of extending plays last year and finding the open man or running for first down yardage. He is an extremely difficult player to stop and the kind of quarterback that gives Clemson’s defense fits. Also, keep in mind Clemson has played just one team that can truly throw the ball when it needed to it and Texas A&M Quarterback Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards. Advantage: Syracuse
Syracuse’s tempo vs. Clemson’s defense: The Tigers struggled to line up in time against the Orange at times last years as they looked confused and out of position on a lot of plays. They better get that fixed if they want to avoid another upset this year. The Orange have run more than 75 plays in each of their ﬁrst four contests, including three games with 80-plus. The Orange’s 334 plays (83.5 avg.) are tied for the sixth-most in the FBS, however, two of the six teams tied or ahead of Syracuse in that department have played an additional game. Twenty-six of Syracuse’s 32 scoring drives (81.3 pct.) this season have been under three minutes. In fact, 18 of those drives (56.3 pct.) have been less than two minutes. Syracuse is tied for eighth nationally with ﬁve scoring drives under one minute. Alabama leads the FBS ranks with 10. Clemson also has ﬁve drives of less than a minute that have resulted in points. Advantage: Syracuse
Trevor Lawrence vs. Syracuse’s defense: Lawrence proved how valuable he is when he is in the game. He instantly influences any defense due to his ability to stretch the field. The freshman currently leads the ACC in yards per attempt (10.0) and passing efficiency (191.8). He is completing 65.0 percent of his passes, while throwing for 600 yards and nine touchdowns. Look for Syracuse to come after Lawrence and try to force him into making mistakes. However, the Orange needs to be careful as they are allowing 255.3 yards per game through the air, including 379 against Western Michigan. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s receivers vs. Syracuse’s defensive backs: Clemson’s receivers are tall, lean, physical and fast. Tee Higgins, Diondre Overton and Justyn Ross should have their way against the Orange’s 5-foot-8 cornerbacks. Hunter Renfrow and Amari Rodgers will be a handful as well. Syracuse leads the nation in plays of 50-plus yards allowed, while Clemson ranks third nationally in explosive plays. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s running game vs. Syracuse’s defense: Last year, Clemson gave up on the running game entirely too early, despite the fact Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster had long touchdown runs. Look for co-offensive coordinator and play caller, Tony Elliott, to keep feeding his two-headed-monster the rock a lot this time around. Syracuse’s linebackers are inexperienced, while the defensive line, though a veteran group that is experienced, has shown a tendency to be pushed around. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom Line: The Kelly Bryant sage will have a lingering affect in today’s game. How can it not? One of its leaders, a team-captain, if you will, quits the team because he was not going to get to start the game. That stings a little bit and everyone on the roster will feel it. However, the Tigers have superior talent, plus Brent Venables and the Clemson defense will be out to prove something against the Orange this time around. Though the Bryant saga, and the distractions that came along with it, will make this game closer than I originally thought, Clemson will still come out with a relatively easy victory.
Prediction: Clemson 42, Syracuse 17