Welcome to Week #5 of our Blue Chip Depth Chart Analysis. This week, the Clemson Tigers will be hosting fellow undefeated Syracuse in an attempt to gain revenge from last years defeat in the carrier dome. Be sure to sound off in the comments below and enjoy!
**WEEKLY DISCLAIMER** -- This shouldn’t have to be said but there are always players who over/under perform their star ranking (e.g., Hunter Renfrow) These rankings are used as a tool for us to present you with an interesting analysis at how the recruiting game has come full circle while pointing out the strengths/differences between the players original rankings/how they have progressed.
As always, we’ve divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, the starting O-line, and the two-deep for the remaining skill positions (WR, TE, RB) are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall offense rating. Similarly on defense, the two-deep at D-line, linebacker, and in the secondary are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall defense rating, regardless of scheme.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Trevor Lawrence era has officially begun at Clemson, as Dabo Swinney announced that the talented freshman would be the starting quarterback and was listed at the top of the depth chart when it was released on Tuesday, and subsequently, Kelly Bryant has since announced that he will be transferring from the program. While I was a big Kelly Bryant supporter, the fact that the quarterback rotation will no longer be utilized is a positive for the Tigers. Going against a high octane offense such as Syracuse, this is a week where points cannot be left on the field while the offense tried to get both quarterbacks playing time.
Last week we saw that Clemson defensive lineman had “boogey-man” written across his uniform on Saturday afternoons victory against Georgia Tech. When Syracuse comes into Death Valley this weekend, that title may just belong to Eric Dungey. The dual threat quarterback for the Orange already has one victory over Clemson under his belt, and enters the contest leading the team in both rushing (354 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns) as well as passing (763 yards and 9 touchdowns to only 1 interception). The man, who has been described by Dabo Swinney as a “baller” may be the most all-around quarterback in the ACC, and if he can stay healthy, gives the Syracuse high-octane offense a chance against Clemson.
The Tiger offensive line put together yet another solid performance against Georgia Tech, especially from the left side where Mitch Hyatt and John Simpson continue to perform above average in both pass and run blocking. Watching the tape on Georgia Tech, Simpson especially has a knack for using his quick hands to gain position and open up a hole for the running backs to burst through. The most intriguing position on the Clemson offensive line continues to be the battle between Sean Pollard and Cade Stewart. Pollard remains at the top of the depth chart this week, but was unable to maintain his blocks against Georgia Tech last weekend. I suspect that this is a battle that we will continue to see for the remainder of the season.
The Orange offensive line appeared to start to put some things together toward the end of last season and it appeared to come from the leadership of Cody Conway. Conway received some Preseason All ACC votes and at Left Tackle, will be responsible for guarding Dungey’s blindside. Texas A&M Transfer Koda Martin is the other anchor for the Syracuse offensive line that has performed well this season, but has seen nothing like the pressure that they will see on Saturday afternoon.
It may be time that you start seeing Travis Etienne’s name start to show up on “dark horse” Heisman Trophy winner lists. In fact, the only reason that you don’t see it already is due to the lack of carries. Travis rushed only 11 times Saturday against Georgia Tech and still managed to break off 122 rushing yards averaging an astonishing 11 yards-per-carry. On the receiving side of the ball, we saw Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins on the boundaries at the same for the first time this season and is another wrinkle in the offense that I expect to see more of as Ross further familiarizes himself with the playbook.
He may be second on the depth chart for Syracuse, but outside of Dungey, Moe Neal appears to be the most trusted back by Dino Babers in Syracuse. Neal rushed for 116 yards on only 13 carries last week against Connecticut and appears to be getting the majority of the carries over Dontae Strickland, despite his five touchdowns on the season. In regards to the wide receivers, Syracuse will always bring height to the field, and this season is no exception as their boundary receivers measure 6’2” and 6’3” respectively.
It seemed like only a matter of time before Freshman Xavier Thomas found his way onto the two-deep depth chart, and this week Thomas finally made the jump as he leapfrogged Logan Rudolph as the backup Strong Side Defensive End. Last week wasn’t a pretty stat week for the defensive front due to their responsibilities against the triple-option attack, however, they will have a chance to get after the quarterback this weekend, as long as the secondary can force Dungey to hang onto the ball more than three seconds.
The Syracuse defensive line is anchored in the middle by Redshirt Senior Defensive Tackle Chris Slayton. Slayton is currently the team’s active leader in games started, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. The Syracuse line is relatively deep, but not experienced as rotational players Josh Black and Kenneth Ruff are both transitioning from other positions. Look for Clemson to try and keep the ball away from the brute strength of Slayton and McKinley Williams and rush the ball off tackle.
The Tiger linebackers were able to pin their ears back against the Georgia Tech option offense and attack the run and the Tigers were led by JD Davis who led the team with 8 tackles and a sack on the afternoon. The Linebackers will be tasked with a completely different responsibility on Saturday against the Orange as the up-tempo nature of the Syracuse offense will force the Tigers to sit in their Cover-3 scheme for most of the game. Isaiah Simmons will be forced into pass coverage for a majority of the game while Tre Lamar will be looked upon to stop the run at the secondary level.
The Syracuse Orange offer a rather unique position at Linebacker due to Dino Baber’s Tampa-2 style defense, which utilizes a 4-2-5 defensive alignment. Kielan Whitner and Ryan Guthrie will be the primary linebackers for the orange. The wild card of the Syracuse defense will be Shyheim Cullen, who is listed as a starting Weak Side Linebacker, but a backup boundary corner as well. Look for him to utilize a role similar to Isaiah Simmons for the Tigers as he will drop into coverage more often than Run-Blitz.
It was yet another week where the Clemson secondary wasn’t tested as even when Georgia Tech dropped back to pass the ball, the defensive line gave the Tech Quarterback no opportunity to get the ball into the air. Needless to say, the Tiger secondary is on notice after they were exposed in last year’s defeat to the Orange, however, there is one key difference form last season and that is size. Syracuse took advantage of Ryan Carter’s size last season and this year, Clemson will counter with 6’2” AJ Terrell and 6’1” Trayvon Mullen to take away some of the jump balls that Dungey will put up.
Syracuse has significantly struggled in pass protection over the past two years, and the adjustment to a 4-2-5 scheme. The numbers have improved this season, but that may be thanks to the lack of skill in the passing game from some of the Orange’s opponents. Syracuse will drop into coverage and rely on their front four to create pressure. Lawrence will have time, and look for him to pick apart the Syracuse secondary.
Most Intriguing Matching:
Clemson Linebackers vs. Syracuse Skill Players
I may be beating a dead horse here, but this is a game where the Clemson linebackers are going to be forced to drop back into coverage frequently, where they have not looked comfortable this season. The up-tempo offense that Syracuse brings to the table will force Clemson to remain in their base Cover-3 defense for a majority of the game and Isaiah Simmons will need to know his responsibilities in picking up running backs and tight ends.