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#2 Clemson Takes on Syracuse

Previewing the Military Appreciation Day Game

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Clemson Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to rock the purple in Death Valley as Syracuse comes calling for the Military Appreciation game. I love how Dabo has found a meaningful way to incorporate the purple uniforms without making them as gimmicky as they had been during the Bowden era. Everybody knows when they will be coming out and that it will only be that one time a year. Even those anti-purple folks can get behind honoring those countless brave men and women who stand up for this country in the military. As for the opponent, well...

I know STS doesn’t represent all Clemson fandom, and Syracuse should be very hopeful that it does not. Because if it did, the Orange will wonder if we are mistaking them for Florida State when they come to the Valley. In many ways, you could see fans yawning a bit over playing the usually woeful Orange and treating it like an SC State game. However, Syracuse has incurred the almighty anger of the Oculus and all its faithful followers and that hatred shall help Death Valley be at its best on Saturday afternoon. I said a few years ago that I was transferring all my hatred for Maryland, which was considerable to say the least, onto Syracuse. This was BEFORE we started seeing some of the commentary coming out of that camp and the antics of former coach Scott Shaffer. I was extremely disappointed in not winning the ‘Bama game last year for sure, but ranking a close second was not completely annihilating Syracuse and USCjr on their home turfs the way we should have. It is time for the 2016 team to make amends for some of that.

Clemson offense vs. Syracuse defense: Last year’s game was crazy up in the Carrier Dome. Clemson looked like it was going to put a 60 spot up on the Orange before the half before sloppiness and turnovers made it much more of a game than it ever should have been. This ‘Cuse defense is bad and should be treated as such. Clemson has begun to crack the 500 yard mark consistently on offense, but turnovers and short lapses of execution have kept the lid from truly being blown off. Syracuse’s defense is incredibly overmatched on the perimeter against the Tigers’ array of skill and will once again hope for turnovers and mistakes up front to save it. They are playing harder under Coach Babers, who was a terrific hire for them, but a focused Clemson effort will be too much for the Orange to overcome.

Their offensive style should only increase the possessions Clemson will get on offense. Clemson needs to dominate the back end of the schedule like it should facing teams who cannot match the talent level on either side of the ball. Clemson has that target on its back and any of the remaining teams would have parades of celebration for pulling off the upset. As a result, there is no room for complacency.

Clemson has wrinkles it needs to iron out, even at this stage of the season. There is still come uncertainty on the OL as the staff was willing to put John Simpson, Falcinelli, and Pollard out there in the Florida State game. The OL is playing decent football, as FSU has horses up front and were bound to win some matchups during the game (and did), but Clemson has yet to really unleash the running game on a team in a way that would take this thing to the next level. Syracuse is more vulnerable to the pass than the run, but their front seven has to rely on movement and disguises in hopes of freeing guys up rather than winning matchups one-on-one. I was pleased to see the I-formation return to the playbook last week on a short yardage play and the jumbo package is always a welcome sight. I would love to see Clemson pound the Orange into submission with a heavy dose of Wayne Gallman. It is time for the OL to step up and put it on somebody which will set up play action shots we need to see Watson hit. Watson has been amazing most of the year with the exception of the handful of bad interceptions and the low percentage of deep balls put on target. To get the mountaintop, this team needs that deep ball issue to get worked out. Syracuse is the perfect defense to work that out on.

Clemson defense vs. Syracuse offense: This is where Babers has really made an impact on the Syracuse program. The Orange are nothing to sneeze at on this side of the ball as they employ a very fast HUNH spread attack with a lot of Air Raid and Run and Shoot principals. Last year the Orange gave Clemson fits with an inverted veer option attack which led to multiple busted gap assignments from the linebackers and safeties. Now the challenge will be tackling in space and getting Syracuse off the field quickly. How did Syracuse really pull off that upset of VT? They controlled the ball on offense mostly and racked up over 90 plays, 32 first downs, and a stunning 4-5 on fourth down tries. It all starts and ends with quarterback Eric Dungey. He is their primary running threat in addition to being their quarterback. The Power Rangers need to assemble to punish Dungey for thinking he might be able to run on this defense. Hopefully Coach Venables has given the defense a healthy dose of film from last year’s game (albeit a different offensive attack) just to get the mouths foaming for redemption.

Clemson’s pass defense has been pretty good all year, but Florida State exposed a few warts last week against the group. While Syracuse cannot boast Florida State’s overall talent on the outside, they do have some guys who can challenge the secondary one on one. The first is the brother of former Clemson player Etta Etta-Tawo who has put up over 1,000 yards already this season. Syracuse has three other above average guys on the outside in Phillips, Ishmael, and Estime. This will be an excellent test of the Tiger secondary which hopefully will be back to full strength with Jadar Johnson and Marcus Edmond returning. I expect we will see Clemson use a ton of nickel and dime with the hopes the front can handle the Orange’s run game without extra hats or a traditional SAM on the field. I want to see Clemson get physical on the outside and not allow the screens and quick hitches to create a rhythm for Dungey. Any RPO play needs to end with Dungey getting helped off the turf so he thinks twice about trying to run.

Some of the stuff NC State and Troy had success with gives me a little worry here as the Tigers have not done a great job of batting down quick passes. The tackling needs to be on point as last week left a lot to be desired on that front. Syracuse knows it has to control the game on this side of the ball to have any chance at victory. Clemson’s defense has answered the bell all year and needs to stone the Orange early on and allow Watson and company to put a nice cushion out there to work with. The Cuse are going to get some yards along the way, it just needs to be when the Tigers are up 21 or 28 points.

Special Teams: Clemson has really turned it around in just about every way on special teams. Considering the periods of sloppy offense, it is very safe to say that anything less in this area would have led to a loss or two at this point. Last year’s team was able to overcome poor special teams play but this year’s team probably cannot, at least based on how it has played to this point. Any upset you see usually has at least one big play on special teams go against the favorite. Just ask Ohio State about that! Clemson just needs to continue to be sound here and not help Syracuse out. That said, the team is due for a big return from Ray-Ray or Scott or Feaster (if they will put him back out there).

Overall: I once again applaud the ACC on the last round of hires. Babers, Fuente, Mendenhall, and Richt have all proven to be major upgrades for each of their schools. While this makes life a little tougher in the league, it should make the ACC champion more playoff ready and worthy going forward. Syracuse deserves our attention as well as our hatred. They need to feel the full weight of a truly loud and intimidating environment, followed by the physical punishment the Tigers can administer. They should feel that anything beyond a three step drop type throw is going to lead to picking their quarterback off the turf. Clemson needs two more ACC wins to clinch the division, assuming Louisville doesn’t lose. We keep hearing the team hasn’t played its best football, but November is the time when that needs to start. I expect Syracuse to put a few scores together, but I also expect the offense to rip an overmatched defense apart.

Clemson 58 Syracuse 28