We’re sitting down and talking to a panel of folks at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, SB Nation’s Syracuse blog, ahead of the big game Saturday. For more of their content, head over to NunesMagician.com and follow them on Twitter @NunesMagician
1. Syracuse has been a great surprise in the ACC this year. What do you credit this to?
A number of factors seem to be at play here. I don’t think you can understate the impact of the Syracuse coaches. Robert Anae and Jason Beck have made the offense less predictable and Tony White is using his defense to create havoc again. The Orange have strong veteran leaders and once they beat Louisville in the opener, it seemed the entire roster gained confidence in the system and each other. Yes, they got a huge break when Purdue decided to melt down in the final minute, but the Syracuse teams of the last three years wouldn’t have completed the task and won the game.
2. After Syracuse beat Clemson in 2017 and was an ACC Atlantic dark horse going into 2018, Dino Babers was a popular name to throw around for various job openings. Is that starting to happen again and do Syracuse fans seem concerned about that?
There’s concern, but not about Dino leaving. Fans are worried about Tony White and the Anae/Beck combination due to the opening at Arizona State, where White came from, and the rumors that Bronco Mendenhall might be looking to coach again. If given a choice I think fans would love to keep White who has transformed the defense and at least one of the offensive coaches heading into 2023.
3. One thing I’m noticing when looking over Syracuse’s schedule is that the beginning of the season has been home game heavy, with the only road game before this weekend being at UConn. How do you feel about the first big road test for this team being at Clemson at what should be a raucous atmosphere?
The Syracuse offensive line has struggled with penalties all season. With a system that is using more pre-snap movement and motion, there is definitely a concern about the crowd. It’s critical for the Orange to start fast and try to minimize the impact of the crowd. If Clemson can get to an early lead and force the Orange to face the Tigers defense and crowd, it could be a long afternoon for the line and Garrett Shrader.
4. Clemson’s defensive weakness has been in the pass game, but that is improving. In addition, FSU actually found more success running the ball on Clemson. Should we expect Syracuse to go pass happy or run heavy on Saturday?
Syracuse ultimately wants to run the ball but they are going to try and keep Clemson off-balance. It wouldn’t shock us to see the Orange run some different formations this weekend and we expect they will use Shrader as a running option early to try and hold the defensive ends. The Orange are going to move Oronde Gadsden II around to keep Clemson from doubling his routes and Sean Tucker is going to be touching the ball as a back and receiver this week.
5. Who are some Syracuse players who will be difference makers Saturday?
On offense, Gadsden has been the big-play receiver and the guy Shrader is looking for in key spots. He’s got the size to box out defensive backs and the speed to get away from linebackers. Anae is doing a good job of using him as a tight end, wide receiver, and as we saw last week lined up next to Shrader in the backfield. The Orange are also looking to run more behind left tackle Matthew Bergeron. He’s the best offensive-lineman and has allowed Tucker to break some bigger runs the last two games. On defense, linebackers Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax are critical. Syracuse has some injuries on the defensive line so Jones and Wax need to contain Will Shipley and on third downs, the Orange will send them to pressure DJ Uiagalelei.
6. What makes you optimistic about this game? What makes you pessimistic?
The Orange have confidence and really nothing to lose so I’d expect the coaching staff will try some gadget plays and might be aggressive early. All of the pressure is on Clemson so getting an early lead could force the Tigers to adjust their game plan.
If Syracuse can’t control the line of scrimmage it could be a long afternoon. The Clemson defensive line is the best in the ACC and they could easily disrupt the Orange offense if they can force Syracuse into 3rd and long and come after the quarterback. When the Tigers have the ball, the Orange must limit Shipley’s runs and make Uiagalelei beat them through the air.
7. And finally, what’s your score prediction?
Clemson 31 Syracuse 20. I think this one is close but Clemson’s advantage up front wears down Syracuse late and the Tigers put the game away in the final five minutes.
Thanks again to the folks over at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician. Again, you can find their content on twitter @NunesMagician and at NunesMagician.com