Ahead of Saturday’s matchup against a new-look Syracuse we had the chance to talk with the SB Nation Syracuse site Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician. John, their managing editor, was kind enough to answer our question on Syracuse. For all things Syracuse as well as my answers to his questions, head over to Troy Nunes.
STS: Obviously the big change from last year for Syracuse was bringing in Dino Babers as the new head coach. Eight games in how do you feel about the job he's done this year as well as his plans for the future?
TNIAAM: Other than the obvious offensive scheme change, Orange fans have noticed a clear methodology for how and why things happen under Babers. As an experienced head coach, Babers brought a staff and a system, and a clear way to communicate and implement those details. That wasn't the case at all for Scott Shafer, a career assistant, who created a staff and (loose) philosophy on a limited budget.
As far as the job he's done on the field, we like that we're not just seeing a more competitive team, but a more competitive team that's getting better every week. On both sides of the ball, the team seems to be "getting it" more and more, and that's led to two straight ACC wins heading into last week's bye week. If this is what the team looks like in year one with a new scheme and players that don't necessarily fit it, we're excited for what happens when he gets players tailored for this system in the door.
STS: Recruiting is such a critical part of success for a coach, have y'all begun to see a change in recruiting under Babers yet? Or does he have a lot of work cut out for him?
TNIAAM: We're seeing a change in the type of players we're targeting, even if the rankings aren't necessarily rising much yet. The 2017 receivers are recruited for their speed, and the linemen are slimmer than previous recruits (so they can be more effective and well-conditioned at this tempo). Right now, we have a fairly unique selling proposition in the Northeast, which can help us attract regional talent (like 4-star New Jersey QB Tommy DeVito). We're having increased success in Florida as well as defensive backs coach Nick Monroe continues to lead the way selling those players on the new direction of the Syracuse program.
STS: One of the big things that Babers is known for is his more HUNH style offense. How has he been able to change Syracuse and what should Clemson fans expect this year from y'all?
TNIAAM: The offense under Shafer didn't have much of a goal. It was effective in spurts, sure. But there wasn't a clear identity at any point, as the team could never pass well and the run game failed to make up for it. This year's offense isn't what Babers wants -- this scheme is supposed to be run-first -- but the passing game has worked wonders in keeping SU moving down the field and within scoring range. With four very capable wideouts and one of the country's fastest offenses, it's been hard to completely stop the Orange without an assist from the weather.
Clemson should expect a lot of passing and a lot of run/pass option from QB Eric Dungey. You've yet to see him against the Tigers yet, but the big numbers he's put up (2,631 passing yards, 15 touchdowns) aren't a mirage. He's proven himself to be accurate and efficient, while making big plays and minimizing mistakes each week. The run game won't be much of factor, unless it's Dungey moving the chains with his legs.
STS: Clemson's OL has had some difficulty this year blowing the DL off the line for the run game. Do Clemson fans have reason to be optimistic or will it be another long night running the ball?
TNIAAM: Syracuse became sneaky-bad against the run at the end of Scott Shafer's tenure, and that's a trend that continues this season as well (91st in yards per game allowed on the ground). Without much depth, experience or size on the defensive line, the Orange have been pushed around in the trenches frequently this season. They've managed to get into the backfield a bit more of late, but the overall point stands. A power run game should be able to pick up yards against this defense.
STS: On offense what are some of the things you'll be looking for to see if Syracuse is going to have success on Saturday?
TNIAAM: Syracuse has to avoid mistakes. Turnovers haven't been as much of a problem this year as penalties have (we had 16 vs. Boston College last week), but either could quickly sink SU against Clemson's defense. Dungey needs to keep control of this offense, in terms of pace and efficiency. If they can isolate holes in the defense on quick snaps, the SU offense should frustrate all day with screens to the likes of Ervin Philips and Brisly Estime. The offensive line will also need to keep Dungey upright, as the more hits he takes, the more his accuracy (and this offense's effectiveness) plunges.
STS: Syracuse's ability to slow Clemson’s running game may be the key to this game, how is Syracuse going to try to stop Clemson's offense Saturday?
TNIAAM: They're between a rock and a hard place in terms of applying pressure vs. exposing themselves to big plays (via Deshaun Watson's legs or arm). As mentioned, we don't get a ton of push on the line, and that makes it tough to blitz. But applying pressure is really the only way this team has a shot to create bad throws from Watson. Otherwise, if he hangs in the pocket long enough, something will open up downfield against our banged-up and young secondary.
If SU can find a way to stop big plays, though, it could help them stay closer in this game just by way of their own pace. How they avoid allowing those gains when selling out against the run will open up Clemon's passing game and playing the pass will lead to Gallman running all over them... I'd love to know.
STS: Finally a prediction for the game or a few thoughts on how you see this one going.
TNIAAM: Syracuse's pace should help them move the ball early before Clemson makes some adjustments and asserts itself on both sides of the ball. The Vegas line on this one seems a bit wide, but that doesn't mean the Tigers will struggle much as the Orange defense finds itself on its heels throughout the afternoon. A couple turnovers end up being the difference in this one. Clemson pulls away in the third quarter en route to a 45-27 victory.