This week we get to welcome another conference foe to Clemson for the first time. While we managed to spank Syracuse last year, both teams are vastly different for a game that has somehow made its way into the 7pm slot on national TV. But before we get to Saturday we were lucky enough to get a chance to talk to John over at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. A big thanks to John for his answers and he also sent a few questions to us. You should be able to read these answers later today.
STS: After 7 games how do y'all feel about Syracuse's season? Is it as expected or are y'all a bit disappointed with a 3-4 record?
TNIAAM: I mean, 3-4 is not really what we had in mind, so yeah, we're a bit disappointed. Even more so when you consider that the numbers show a team that could/should have very well beaten both Maryland and Notre Dame at this point, too. But injuries, a lack of red zone execution and a bad offensive coordinator got us here, so we're just going to have to dig ourselves out. A bowl game's not impossible right now. It just seems pretty difficult with tough games still left on the schedule and a true freshman QB under center. Still, things have looked up for the past couple weeks, so if anything, give this season an "incomplete" thus far and let's wait it out to see how this group can finish.
STS: What exactly has happened at QB for Syracuse? AJ Long played against Wake Forest for y'all and had a pretty good game. Is he expected to start this weekend and if so what does that mean for Syracuse?
TNIAAM: A summary: Terrel Hunt started the season at QB and then the "Punch Heard 'Round the Dome" happened, but he returned against Central Michigan and did really well so we all thought things were fine. Then Hunt and the offense couldn't get it done against Maryland, Notre Dame or Louisville, but because Hunt fractured his fibula in that last game, we had to look elsewhere for a passer. Backup Austin Wilson started against Florida State, but gave way to A.J. Long by the end, in part because of a head injury. Long started last week and played with a lot of confidence. You can expect him to have the ball all game against Clemson.
STS: When Syracuse has been successful what have they been doing well?
TNIAAM: Stuck to the run game, which is the strength of this team, converted on third down at a decent clip and got after the opposing QB. Turnovers and passing the ball well are both nice, but we've done those things against Notre Dame and Maryland and the team still lost. While Long's a better passer than Hunt, this offense still needs to use the run to establish itself, and with five very capable backs available to carry the load, there's absolutely no reason not to lean on them. As you probably know, the Orange defense will blitz the Tigers a ton, and the success to which they can do that will be a bit part of this weekend's outcome, too.
STS: Clemson has one of the best defenses in the nation, what do you think Syracuse's plan of attack should be to get some points in this one?
TNIAAM: Under new OC Tim Lester, Syracuse's offense looks a lot more dynamic and willing to test defenses (rather than letting defenses test them), so the plan of attack is probably gong to be to establish the run while testing that Tigers pass-rush early on. Clemson's front-seven is obviously a great group, but SU will want to see just how much it can get away with since Long is a running threat (and a much quicker one than Hunt). Even if Long manages to throw the ball (and the plan is definitely to do so), expect a varied mix of runs from different ball carriers to keep the defense on its toes.
STS: Conversely the Clemson offense has looked a lot like the wagon that is in danger of losing a second wheel. Are you comfortable with Syracuse's ability to keep the Tigers out of the end zone?
TNIAAM: Out of the end zone? Not specifically. But I do trust Syracuse's ability to get into the backfield, which would prevent them from getting into the end zone by default. The Orange defense is all about big plays -- turnovers, tackles for loss, sacks -- so they'll get those any way they can. That might cause a touchdown or two, but the eventual benefits sometimes outweigh those points. I stress sometimes, since you can look at plenty of times where it doesn't work out that way from this season alone. If Clemson can't run the ball much, SU is likely sending six or seven on every play to get to Cole Stoudt.
STS: This year every punter Clemson has faced has looked like the greatest punter since Ray Guy. Should we expect that to continue this weekend or are we lucky enough to finally come up against a truly terrible punter?
TNIAAM: Oh, so I guess you guys haven't seen this? Sure, it's a humorous Heisman campaign, but our punter really might be the best player on this team. For a time, he was tied for the team lead in touchdown passes, and his 42-yard run against Notre Dame was one of the better fake punts I've seen. He can also punt the ball really well if that's getting lost in this write-up, even if last week's showing vs. Wake Forest wasn't all that great. He's still averaging 43 yards per punt right now, though... which is pretty good.
STS: What has to happen on Saturday for Syracuse to win this game?
TNIAAM: On offense, a commitment to the run and an ability to score in the red zone. Syracuse has struggled mightily to put touchdowns on the board from inside the 20 (it's defied all logic, really), so finally figuring out how to do that would certainly help our cause in terms of pulling an upset. Defensively, we need to get a lot of pressure on Cole Stoudt and not allow him to have time to complete deep passes. As mentioned, we've struggled with that first thing, but we've actually excelled at the second thing. If Clemson's offense comes out fairly one-dimensional, that should certainly help the Orange's cause.
STS: And most importantly, do you feel that playing in a dome will hurt Syracuse's ability to properly prepare for the cooler temperatures that are expected for Saturday's game?
TNIAAM: You guys haven't been to Syracuse in the winter, have you? Playing in a Dome certainly doesn't prepare us for cold, but it's not like it's incredibly warm there ALL year either. And the outdoor chilliness at SU should be more than enough to have us ready for whatever "weather conditions" are coming on Saturday night (looks like 70s all day with a nighttime low of 49 right now?). Believe it or not, few teams are as prepared for cold as we are, despite the field we play on.