Special thanks to John Cassillo and our friends over at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician for taking the time to answer our questions prior to the Friday Night showdown between Clemson and Syracuse.
Kelly Bryant is now expected to play this Friday night. How do you see the Syracuse defense handling his ability to run the football, even with his potential limited mobility?
It’s tough to gauge, because it really does depend on how much his mobility is limited. But Syracuse has not typically fared well against mobile quarterbacks in recent seasons. Players like Lamar Jackson and Quinton Flowers have torn up the defense, and even mobile Pitt backup Ben Dinucci seemed to have a little success there on Saturday (ran for 11 yards on one play). That said, he’s really the only thing close to a dual-threat we’ve faced this season.
The Orange could put a spy on Bryant, but that likely hurts the pass defense. They might take their chances and hope the outside linebackers can close out quickly along the sidelines. Doing that would at least (hopefully) prevent some longer completions. Though SU has a lot of the same personnel from last year’s D, they’ve altered aspects of the Tampa-2 to generate a better push up front. So perhaps they’ll alter things similarly to account for Bryant in a way we haven’t seen from this group yet.
Eric Dungey has been the key to success for Syracuse throughout the start of the season as the team’s leading rusher and passer throughout the season. What skillset does he possess that can give the Clemson defense the biggest problem on the night?
If Syracuse can slow down Clemson’s pass rush up the middle, that should give the Orange a better chance to move the ball -- as Dungey is at his most dangerous when he’s able to roll outside of the pocket. Once he’s there, he’s equally likely to throw the ball or make a run for it, and with four or five receivers out in space on most plays, it creates some quick decision-making for opposing defenses.
Clemson’s able to generate a blitz from the interior line, which should counter this well (we saw Pitt have success rushing up the middle last week too). But in the off chance Dungey has time, he’ll find ways to pick up yardage. He’s known as a faster runner, but he does have this second burst that defenders get surprised by. The key is to get to him before he can work up to that speed.
Steve Ishmael has arguably been the best receiver in the ACC this season using his 6’2” frame and leaping ability to highpoint passes and Dabo Swinney recently compared him to Mike Williams. Do you see Syracuse using his height and athletic ability to try and take advantage of Clemson’s smaller cornerbacks?
Ishmael’s size works in two ways, as it lets him screen out smaller corners on short passing routes, while also helping him go up and get balls down the field in places DBs simply can’t get to. He’s not overly quick, but he’s our best route-runner and knows how to time a jump near the boundary. How much he’ll be able to do all of that largely depends on how Clemson chooses to defend him. If you double him, we’ll likely just throw the ball elsewhere. But if he’s left in single coverage downfield, Dungey’s going to try that throw every time.
Syracuse has recently put up two impressive performances on the road and is coming off its first victory over Pittsburgh in 5 seasons, what is the confidence level of the team at this point in the season?
It would be much higher if we hadn’t lost a soul-sucking game to Middle Tennessee (whose defensive coordinator is former SU head coach Scott Shafer) earlier in the season. A 4-2 team with close road losses to LSU and NC State would have a pretty impressive amount of confidence -- compared to recent Orange seasons anyway.
Still, the Pitt game was a nice boost. It proved that Syracuse wasn’t just doomed to lose close games, but could shut the door on a team late as well. The team (and I) would feel better if we were a bit healthier on the D-line and sturdier on the offensive line given your pass rushing abilities. However, I think the Orange are gaining steam from a production standpoint, and really understand their roles on both sides of the ball. That clear identity was lacking last year.
Finally, what do you expect the outcome to be this Friday night?
I’d love to say we shock the college football world, but your front-seven is too much for our banged-up (and green) offensive line to handle. Dungey’s been under siege most of the season, and has been sacked 14 times. Clemson should be able to get to him at least a few times, and disrupt the flow of this offense. Bryant’s running ability should keep things moving on the other side of the ball for the Tigers.
By virtue of pace, the Orange are going to pick up yardage, but I’m not sure how often they’ll be able to turn those gains into points. Give me a 31-17 Clemson victory that I try to tell myself is closer than it actually is afterward.