Top-ranked Clemson heads into today’s game at Death Valley with a different kind of challenge. The Tigers are a heavy favorite against a Syracuse team that is reeling at the moment.
The Orange has been decimated by injuries and players who have opted out due to COVID-19. All the attrition has caught up to the program, as they come in 1-4 overall (1-3 ACC) and fresh off a home loss to Liberty.
“It is so easy to look at their record and say, ‘Oh well, they are not a good team’ or something like that, but that is not how we operate,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “For us, every game is the biggest game. That is just how we go about it. We always have.”
The Tigers (5-0, 4-0 ACC) have operated that way ever since they lost to this same Syracuse program back in 2017, their last regular season defeat and the last time they lost a game to an ACC foe. Clemson was a 21-point favorite that night over an Orange team that finished the year 4-8.
Clemson has won 34 straight regular season games since being stunned by the Orange in the Carrier Dome on that Friday night back in 2017. They have run roughshod though the ACC, winning 26 consecutive games in the conference, including three ACC Championship Games.
The Tigers are coming off a 73-7 victory at Georgia Tech. Clemson comes into the noon kickoff today against Syracuse as a 46-point favorite, the fifth largest point spread in ACC history against a conference opponent.
“This is a team we have a lot of respect for,” Swinney said. “Their style of play offensively, creates challenges. They are a tempo team with a lot of RPOs, lot of pop passes, lot of screens and everything that comes off those type of plays. They will take a lot of shots down field. They are going to throw the ball ten times forty yards or more. Competitive plays, techniques, fundamentals, outside at corner, in particular, are critical.
“Then defensively, they do a lot of stuff. They have had some personnel challenges these first few games with different guys being in and out. But, again, we have a lot of respect for them. We know firsthand here at Clemson that Syracuse is a team that can beat you. The last league loss we had was to Syracuse.”
Who has the edge in today’s matchup?
Travis Etienne vs. Syracuse’s run defense: Two years ago, Travis Etienne rushed for 203 yards as Clemson rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat the Orange 27-23 at Death Valley. Etienne could possibly have 200 yards by halftime this afternoon. Syracuse ranks last in the ACC in rushing defense, allowing 252.6 yards per game on the ground. In their last three games, they have given up 275, 363 and 338 rushing yards, the last coming against Liberty. Etienne needs 129 yards today to pass Ted Brown’s All-time ACC record of 4,602 career yards, which he set from 1975-’78.
Trevor Lawrence vs. Syracuse’s secondary: As crazy as this sounds, Syracuse might be Clemson’s biggest challenge in the passing game so far this season. The Orange is tied for the ACC lead in interceptions with eight this season, almost two interceptions per game. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw his first interception in nearly a year against Georgia Tech last week. The Heisman Trophy candidate has just one interception in 148 attempts this season.
The turnover margin: Though Syracuse is struggling, one thing it does well is take care of the football and force turnovers. Not only does the Orange lead the ACC in turnover margin, but they lead the country as well. They have created 16 turnovers this season to just five that they have given away. The only way Syracuse can do the unimageable today and pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football, is to force a lot of turnovers and give their offense short fields to work with. The good news for Clemson, is the Tigers have done a good job of taking care of the football as well. Though Clemson’s turnover margin is just 0.80, it has given the ball away just five times in five games.
Bottom Line: Syracuse is coming off a loss to Liberty, will have a backup quarterback playing and 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 Etienne and Lawrence. And, oh by the way, the defense is not too shabby either.
Score prediction: Clemson 66, Syracuse 10