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Can Syracuse Get Over the Hump Against Clemson?

Syracuse defenders (white) swarm former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (orange) in the Orange's 47-21 loss to the Tigers in 2020. SU has not beaten Clemson since 2017.
Cuse.com
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Syracuse defenders (white) swarm former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (orange) in the Orange's 47-21 loss to the Tigers in 2020. SU has not beaten Clemson since 2017.

READ: Syracuse football dives into the second half of its regular season this weekend against Clemson. This year's Tigers team isn't its usual dominant self. However, as WAER's John Eads explains, it's still a chance for SU to prove it can beat anybody in the ACC.

Syracuse football enters week seven with three wins and three losses. The defeats have all been very close with just a sixteen point combined margin. This past weekend SU dropped a heartbreaker to Wake Forest 40-37 in overtime. ‘Cuse head coach Dino Babers’ team has displayed its ability to compete with the big boys, now the question is “can they beat them?” The Orange have a gargantuan opportunity to prove that on Friday against Clemson.

The Tigers have uncharacteristically struggled this season. The typical ACC juggernaut fell out of the national rankings a few weeks ago for the first time since 2014. It appears Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and company have been eliminated from national title contention. The 2018 national champions already own two losses. The Tigers lost to top-ranked Georgia 10-3 in their season opener and fell to now #22 NC State 27-21 in overtime.

The last you saw of Clemson, they narrowly escaped a shorthanded Boston College team in Memorial Stadium. The Eagles were without starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec yet still managed to push the Tigers to the edge. Clemson should benefit from having a bye week following the BC win and entering Friday’s matchup. Coach Swinney’s squad looked very vulnerable in its first five contests. Syracuse has a golden opportunity to collect a momentum swinging win this weekend, but how can they do it?

Make Clemson’s Offense One-Dimensional 

Seeing Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliot’s unit struggle is unusual. Just one season ago, the Tigers led the ACC averaging over 43 points per game. One year later, Clemson is the bottom of the barrel in the conference totaling under half of its 2020 output at 21 points per contest. This regression may have everything to do with the Tigers' struggles.

On the flip side of Clemson’s offensive struggles is Syracuse’s defensive success. SU has jumped up from 15th in total defense last season to 3rd allowing just over 300 yards per game. A major key to this success halfway through the season has been the unit’s ability to turn an offense one-dimensional. What does this mean? Forcing an offense to do one thing, run or pass but not both.

Against Wake Forest, Syracuse took away the rushing attack and forced its opponent to strictly pass the football. The Orange allowed just 96 yards on the ground but to the Demon Deacons credit, they won the game through the air connecting on deep balls. There’s no doubt though that SU’s success in taking away the run kept the team in the game and nearly led to an upset. The Orange should take the same strategy in Friday’s game.

Coach Babers says that this strategy worked when ‘Cuse upset Clemson in 2017.

“We were able to keep them from running the ball super efficiently. If you control the physical part of it you should come out on top most of the time.”

Syracuse fans storm the field and crowd Dino Babers' postgame interview after upsetting #1 Clemson in 2017.
Cuse.com
Syracuse fans storm the field and crowd Dino Babers' postgame interview after upsetting #1 Clemson in 2017.

What should help Syracuse is that Clemson has not been very good with its rushing or passing attack. The Tigers rank 12th and 13th respectively in the ACC, SU is the only squad with averaging less passing yards per game. The point is, if ‘Cuse defensive coordinator Tony White’s bunch can nullify the ground game for example, there’s a great chance of shutting down this entire Clemson offense. The question then becomes “can Syracuse score on what is a dominant Clemson defense?”

When Passing, Make it Count 

An eye-opening play from SU’s loss to Wake Forest was Athony Queeley’s long touchdown reception from Shrader. The receiver ran a corner route to perfection and found himself wide open in the back of the end zone for Syracuse’s second score of the contest. That wasn’t a play the Orange were capitalizing on in previous matchups. For ‘Cuse its been run, run some more, and run it again.

If Shrader and company can pass efficiently and cash in on downfield shots, Syracuse figures to be in a much favorable spot. The Orange can run the football, everyone in the country knows it and Clemson certainly will on Friday. SU doesn’t have the best rushing attack in the ACC for nothing. The challenge will be finding other ways to move the ball and extend drives because on the other side the Tigers have a dominant defense.

Clemson has the top defensive unit in the conference led by longtime coordinator Brett Venables. The Tigers allow just under 12 points per game and just over 100 rush yards per outing. Syracuse will face its stiffest test yet this weekend against a veteran laden, stingy group.

Our coverage of Friday’s contest begins with GZA Countdown to Kickoff at 6:30 p.m., followed by kickoff at 7 p.m. Coach Babers thinks his team is primed to get over the hump soon, perhaps that time will come this week.

“We are sharpening ourselves up for something special, that’s the way I look at it. We have a lot of guys that have been in a lot of tight games. If we continue to do this down the road I believe we are gonna start seeing the benefits of coming out on top.”