Clemson needs to accomplish a first to stay afloat in ACC contention

Clemson needs to accomplish a first to stay afloat in ACC contention

Football

Clemson needs to accomplish a first to stay afloat in ACC contention

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As bad as things have been at times for Clemson this season, particularly on offense, the Tigers have still won more games than they’ve lost to this point.

Clemson is still squarely in the ACC title mix five games into its season. The 25th-ranked Tigers (3-2, 2-1 ACC) have even beaten a once-unbeaten team (Boston College) along the way.

If the Tigers want to stay in contention, they will have to pull off a first this season, and that’s win on the road. Clemson’s losses so far? The neutral-site opener against top-ranked Georgia and at North Carolina State’s Carter-Finley Stadium in both teams’ Atlantic Division opener.

Awaiting the Tigers this week is a trip to the Carrier Dome for a Friday game against Syracuse (3-3, 0-2).

“Trying to accomplish something we haven’t done yet, and that’s win on the road this year,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “A huge challenge at a tough place to play.”

While Clemson’s defense (second nationally in points allowed) has been more than solid all season, the offense showed some encouraging signs its last time out against Boston College, racking up 438 total yards and more than 200 rushing yards for only the second time this season.

The Tigers will need to find a way to bring that kind of production — and more touchdowns after kicking four field goals in the 19-13 win over the Eagles — on the road, where the offense has been virtually non-existent so far. Clemson mustered just three points and 180 total yards against what’s been the best defense in the country all season (Georgia) but then followed that up three weeks later with six three-and-outs and an interception in an eight-possession span and just 10 first downs in its first true road game (N.C. State).

Friday also begins perhaps the most critical stretch of games left on Clemson’s schedule. After the trip to Syracuse, which took unbeaten Wake Forest to overtime in its building last week, the Tigers will head to Pittsburgh, where they’ll face the nation’s top scoring offense at Heinz Field.

With one division loss already to its name, dropping another one would put Clemson’s chances of playing for a seventh straight ACC crown in real peril.

“If we want to have any chance at all of staying in the hunt, we’ve got to take care of business,” Swinney said. “If we were 5-0, wouldn’t this be the biggest game of the year? We need to win it, right? Nothing’s changed. From my perspective, the record, it doesn’t have anything to do with how you should play. This game is huge for us. It’s huge for them. We’ve got to win the game.”

Clemson has won three in a row over Syracuse but has split its last two trips to the Carrier Dome. The Tigers won 41-6 in 2019 after being upset as a top-5 team there in 2017 — a game that was also played on a Friday.

Between the quality of opponent — Syracuse is in the top 65 nationally in scoring and points allowed — and the unique environment, Swinney doesn’t expect his team getting off the schneid away from home to come easily.

“It’s not your typical dome,” Swinney said. “It’s not like you’re going to some of the domes around there with real higher ceilings. It’s a little lower ceiling and just a different feel to it. But it’s loud man. They do a great job. It’s a great environment for college football.”

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