Countdown to Kickoff: A lot has changed in two years

Countdown to Kickoff: A lot has changed in two years


Countdown to Kickoff: A lot has changed in two years


Syracuse at No. 1 Clemson

It is crazy to think about now, but two years ago Clemson needed its backup quarterback to complete a fourth-down pass on the last drive to beat Syracuse or it might not have won the 2018 National Championship.

It is doubtful the top-ranked Tigers will have to worry about such things on Saturday when the Orange returns to Death Valley for a noon kick.

Clemson is a 46-point favorite to beat Syracuse this week, as the Orange has fallen dramatically from its 10-win season of two years ago. The question is not if Syracuse can beat Clemson? Instead, can it compete with the Tigers for any real length of time.

Saturday’s spread is the fifth largest between two conference opponents in the history of the ACC, and it is the largest for Clemson over an opponent.

Last week, Syracuse lost by 17 points at home to Liberty, a program that just moved up to the FBS level two years ago.

However, the Tigers needed a fourth-and-six completion from its own 48-yard line in the final minutes in 2018 to beat the Orange. Backup quarterback Chase Brice, now with Duke, hit Tee Higgins for 20 yards to keep the winning drive alive. A few plays later, running back Travis Etienne scored the game-winning touchdown with 43 seconds to play.

Game Information

Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

Records: Clemson 5-0, 4-0 ACC; Syracuse 1-4, 1-3 ACC

When: Saturday, Noon

TV: ACCN (Wes Durham, Roddy Jones, Lericia Harris)

Radio: Clemson Tigers Network (Don Munson, Reggie Merriweather)

Satellite Radio: Sirius 137, XM 193, Internet 955

Latest Line: Clemson minus-46

Series History

  • Clemson leads series, 6-2
  • HOME: Clemson leads series, 3-0
  • ROAD: Clemson leads series, 3-1
  • NEUTRAL: Clemson trails series, 0-1
  • LAST MEETING: Sept. 14, 2019 (41-6, W)
  • STREAK: Clemson, Won 2

Three story lines

Clemson ranks second in the nation with 22 sacks. In their four losses this season, Syracuse is surrendering 5.75 sacks per game. Syracuse is 13-5 since the start of 2018 in games which the team surrenders three sacks or fewer, including a 1-1 mark this season. On the flip side, the Orange are 3-9 in games which they allow four-or-more sacks, including an 0-3 mark this season.

Clemson running back Travis Etienne will continue his assault on the ACC record book, as he enters Saturday’s contest with 4,474 career rushing yards, 128 yards shy of tying (or 129 yards shy of breaking) the ACC’s career rushing yardage record held by NC State’s Ted Brown (4,602 from 1975-78). Etienne has reached at least 128 yards in a game 10 times in his career, including a memorable 203-yard effort against Syracuse in 2018.

The 23-point threshold has been telling for the Tigers in recent years. Dating to 2010, Clemson has won 85 consecutive games when holding opponents below 23 points. Since 2014, Clemson has held opponents to 22 or fewer points in 67 games, the most in the nation, recording a perfect 67-0 record in those contests.

Syracuse’s three players to watch

Sean Tucker, RB: Tucker made quite an impact against Georgia Tech in Week 3, rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns, earning ACC Running Back of the Week honors. He ran for 111 yards against Liberty two weeks later. Tucker is now the third player in Syracuse history to post multiple 100-yard games as a true freshman. He joins Syracuse’s all-time leading rusher, Joe Morris (who did so five times as a freshman and 22 times in total) and Dee Brown (twice) in that regard.

Aaron Hackett, TE: He had six touchdown catches in 2019, and ranked second on the Orange in touchdown receptions behind WR Trishton Jackson and earned Syracuse’s Bill Maxwell Award as the team’s most improved offensive player. He notched his first of the 2020 season against Liberty last week. For perspective, Hackett totaled one touchdown in 21 games played coming into the 2019 season and now has seven in the 17 games since the ’19 opener. Hackett’s six scores in 2019 were the most for an Orange tight end since Nick Provo led the team with seven during the 2011 campaign.

Taj Harris, WR: Harris is on pace to be the next receiver to benefit with big numbers in the Orange offense. Harris ranks second in the ACC with 86.8 yards per game and ranks third in the league at 16.7 yards per catch. With 26 receptions thus far, he leads all Orange receivers. His status for Saturday is uncertain due to an obscene gesture he made at a television camera during last week’s loss to Liberty.


Syracuse is coming off a loss to Liberty. Will have a backup quarterback playing (Rex Culpepper), has several other players either injured and not playing or have chosen to opt out the season. The Orange dressed 60 players for a home game last week. Now, they get to play the No. 1 team in the country, who is arguably the deepest team in the country. And arguably has the two best players in the nation in Etienne and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. And, oh by the way, the defense is not too shabby either.

Score prediction: Clemson 66, Syracuse 10

–Clemson and Syracuse Athletic Communications departments contributed to this story

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