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Clemson versus Syracuse Preview

Bring all your dark forces of hatred and point them northward! It is time to take on the 'Cuse!

Yeah, we're number one!
Yeah, we're number one!
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The magical 2015 ride continues as the Tigers responded like true champions against a game Florida State team.  As predicted, the Tigers were able to attack the middle of the 'Nole defense with Jordan Leggett and, to a lesser degree, the slot receivers.  This offense is a true nightmare to match up with at this stage of the season because you simply have to be dominant at just about every level to have a chance to stop it.  Had Watson been on his game early on, this game could have been a much bigger margin.  We won't quibble with a win, especially against FSU, and now it is time to do the celebration dance right on top of the Syracuse Orange.

When Syracuse came to the ACC and Maryland left, I stated then that I would reapply my hatred of the Terps towards the Orange.  This was even before the antics of Scott Shafer and all the talk about the "hot" Carrier Dome.  Throw in Jim Boeheim's snarky remarks about God's Country and you create a near perfect storm for hatred.  Syracuse better hope the team hasn't felt this way about them and decides to truly give them their full attention on Saturday.  The results of that could be ugly, as Vegas has predicted with a massive 4 TD spread.  However, the 'Cuse has been much more feisty at home this season and when you are the #1 team in the country, you get an inspired effort from your opponent guaranteed.  The problem for Syracuse is their style of play, especially on defense, lends itself to get ripped to shreds by the Clemson Tiger attack.

Clemson offense versus Syracuse defense: Most Clemson fans can easily recall the onslaught of offense the Tigers put on display the last time they visited the Carrier Dome.  Syracuse planned to "do what they do," which is blitz heavily, and the result was multiple explosive plays.  The Tigers scored on passes of 60, 42, 17, 40, and 91 in route to a 49-14 drubbing.  The Orange got to face a watered down Tiger offense with a banged up Cole Stoudt at the helm last year, but this time the Tigers come in at nearly full capacity.  Shafer hopes to create havoc and turnovers with his blitz-heavy scheme, but the Tigers are well-equipped to handle that type of defense with the bevy of screens and vertical threats the offense possesses.  The Tigers also have arguably the best quarterback in the country who has already proven he can recognize and kill a blitz as well as anyone in college football.  To think the Orange will chance up what they do drastically for this game is absurd, so fasten your seat belt and prepare yourself for some highlight worthy action on this side of the ball.  Tajh went for 455 and 5 touchdowns in 3 quarters in 2013.  I don't necessarily expect that level of yardage from Watson because this team will look to run the ball much more, but that 16.9 yards per attempt Boyd put up might be a number he can beat.  The game plan will be to put this game to bed as quickly as possible and get the starters out of there.  Injury is the biggest fear in managing the next two weeks against seriously out-manned competition.

Clemson unleashed Jordan Leggett in a way not yet seen against Florida State.  Leggett has been a reliable red zone threat, but for the first time we saw the Tigers really deploy him downfield with a variety of routes.  He looked like a true NFL level player last week and sent a not so subtle reminder to future opponents that he is a force to be reckoned with going forward.  While Florida State had the corners to limit the outside threats of the Tigers (though Peake had Ramsey beat for what could have been a huge gain or TD in the first half), they had no answer for Leggett over the middle.  As usual, the Tigers were committed to pounding the Wayne Train and though it was tough sledding for a while, Gallman eventually busted out for the clinching run and eclipsed 100 yards yet again.  The amount of stress this offense puts on a defense is truly remarkable.  I cannot even imagine what having Mike Williams out there would do.  Needless to say it has been a joy to watch this offense grow after some questions came up post Louisville and Notre Dame.

Clemson defense versus Syracuse offense: I'm sure I wasn't alone in being a little afraid during the first quarter of last week's game.  I had thoughts that the NCST game wasn't as much an anomaly as it was an exposure of some critical crack in the Tiger defense's armor.  However, those fears were largely allayed as the defense got better as the game went on and largely stuffed the FSU offense for 3 quarters.  The good news is Dalvin Cook is in the rear view mirror and nobody close to his level remains on the regular season schedule.  Syracuse employs an offense somewhere between what Boston College and NCST try to do, which is feature the zone read run game and pre-snap shifts/motions.

Syracuse has had some serious injury issues at quarterback this year and will likely start walk on Zack Mahoney due to Eric Dungey being banged up.  Mahoney played pretty well against LSU earlier in the year when he threw for 3 touchdowns and made some plays with his feet.  Of course, that was against a Kevin Steele defense so the quarterback run looked pretty good.  The one guy that has jumped out at me (and really the only guy that could be a 2 deep guy for Clemson) is wideout Steve Ishmael.  He is a good looking player who is the big play threat for the Syracuse offense.  The bad news for him is he will likely draw MacKensie Alexander and/or Cordrea Tankersley all game.  Florida State put Ramsey on him and held him to 1 catch for 25 yards.  There really isn't much else that worries you about the Syracuse offense.  Running back Jordan Fredricks has some decent numbers at 426 yards and 5.2 per carry, but closer examination shows he racked up most of that against Rhode Island, Central Michigan, and Pitt.  Louisville, LSU, and Florida State (teams with the most comparable defensive line talent to Clemson) held him below 4 yards a carry.  Both Dungey and Mahoney will run the ball (Dungey is the second leading rusher on the team), but the days of fearing the quarterback run are long gone.  There is a reason Bobby Petrino and Jimbo Fisher elected to go with drop back passers rather than running quarterbacks against Clemson this year.

I did the linebacker preview for STS this year and thought that Ben Boulware would be an All ACC player.  While Ben has made lots of big plays and is a stick of dynamite for the defense, B.J. Goodson has performed above Ben's level, especially down the stretch.  Goodson has elevated his play to a level I wasn't sure he could reach and he was tremendous against Florida State.  Thankfully this duo has stayed on the field, but it would be another great blessing for the young linebackers Joseph and Williams to get meaningful snaps this week.  One thing is for sure, this defense will hit you at every level.  It cannot be a fun experience for a quarterback to sit in the film room watching this group in preparation.  Even the two quarterbacks who had some success this year got sacked multiple times and hit many more times in addition.  The sheer size and strength of Kiser and Brissett helped keep them upright for four quarters, but they no doubt needed some extra time in the training room following the Clemson game.  This defense is coming for your quarterback, Syracuse.

Special Teams:  I tried to think of a way to sum up the coverage issues with this year's team.  So much has been so well done and dominant, yet the team continues to have issues with basic kickoff coverage and return.  I want to say it is going to turn around and we will see some great play in this area, but then this came to mind...

I will just leave it at that.

Oh, Syracuse has a punt returner who can take it to the house, so let's be sharp in that phase and not give any cheap points to an underdog.

Overall:  Syracuse deserves the Miami treatment, if for no other reason in that they are Syracuse.  I'm calling for the Miami gameplan which is delivering a Biblical beating that resonates well into the following week.  Could it cost Shafer his job?  Who cares!  Go Tigers.