After years of one losing season after another, it is safe to say that the Syracuse University football program has finally begun to turn the corner. With another decisive 51-21 win against UCONN, the Orange sees itself sitting at 4-0; an accomplishment not achieved since 1991. With an unblemished record solidified by decisive margins, the question still stands: why has this team not yet garnered national attention in the AP Top 25 polls? Well, you can answer that question yourself by looking at the records of Western Michigan, Wagner, Florida State, and UCONN. However, that can all change at noon this Saturday with a win in Clemson, South Carolina.
This weekend sets the stage for the Orange’s first ACC road game as they travel down to battle one of their toughest opponents of the season: the number three ranked Clemson Tigers. Everyone in the Syracuse community still remembers the exciting night of last year’s 27-24 upset win against the then number two ranked Tigers, but this year’s expectations and mentalities appear to be different. Through the first four games, although against weaker teams, Head Coach Dino Babers and his team have proven that they have the talent on both sides of the ball to contend with the top echelon of teams in the FBS; now, it’s just about that talent getting it done against a powerhouse Clemson program to finally prove to the college football community that Syracuse is capable of being known for more than just basketball.
On the other side of this matchup, Clemson also feels that this game is about more than just winning a conference game. Certainly, the Clemson upperclassmen must vividly remember October 13th of last year when the victorious Syracuse student body stormed the field. This game is not only a chance for them to beat a strong ACC opponent, but it's also an opportunity to get revenge on their home turf. Clemson’s home turf has lived up to its nickname, Death Valley, in the past few years, which reflects their current status as 25.5-point favorites for this upcoming weekend. However, Syracuse can overcome the noise and pressure of Death Valley if they focus on these two keys to the game:
1. Dominate Up Front on Defense: After the Western Michigan game, Syracuse fans believed that this season’s success relied upon the offense putting as many points on the board as possible. However, in the weeks since, the defense has been successful behind the play of the front four. Dominating a powerful Clemson running attack led by Travis Etienne early on will then let that four-headed monster do what it does best: get to the quarterback. As skilled as Clemson’s offense has been behind star pocket passing quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers have shown an extremely visible Achilles heel in the pass game, giving up four sacks each to Texas A&M and Georgia Tech.
2. Establish the Run Game: As important as it is for the Orange’s front four to dominate, it is as important for the offensive line to control arguably the most talented front four in college football. Going into a stadium where very few come out victorious, Syracuse cannot play from behind and place the pressure on quarterback Eric Dungey to let the ball fly every snap. The offensive line must be prepared to do its part in the trenches early so that Dungey can spread the field later on with those screens he loves to throw through the Run-Pass-Options.
What to Watch For: In college football headlines this week, news broke that Kelly Bryant, Clemson’s starting QB a season ago, would be transferring after being demoted to the backup position behind high school phenom and redshirt freshman, Trevor Lawrence. Watch for how Syracuse plays Lawrence in his first official start and whether the drama surrounding the QB controversy affects the Clemson offense this week.
At the end of the day, Saturday afternoon’s result will determine whether or not the Syracuse Orange is a true force to be reckoned with this season.