1) Syracuse has jumped out to a 4-0 start but doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention as some of the other surprising stories in the ACC. What should fans who haven’t watched Syracuse play know about this team through their first four games?
This team has its in-game adjustments down pat on both sides of the ball. It was the big thing coach Dino Babers preached preseason about how people would see the skill of each of his coordinators come through this year, and we’ve certainly seen that ring true. This defense, especially, which boasts a lot of veterans and now a DC who’s one of the best in the business, has just been able to play at a very high level this season.
2) ACC defenses are rejoicing because star running back Sean Tucker is now in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Who on Cuse’s offense has stepped up to fill those big shoes? How different is Syracuse’s offensive identity without Tucker this season?
Even with Tucker last year, Syracuse’s offensive identity had shifted to a more balanced run-pass one than in Tucker’s 2021 season when he commanded the offense. We’ve seen that persist this year, with the offense about equal in rushing yards versus passing yards. QB Garrett Shrader is the leader in the ground game right now, but don’t count true sophomore running back LeQuint Allen out of things. He’s a multifaceted back in a way Tucker wasn’t, and the Orange have some creative ways of using him that extend beyond the run game.
3) When people lament on conference realignment and the loss of traditional rivalries, I like to point to the Clemson-Syracuse series. Prior to 2013, these teams had met once in football, in the 1996 Gator Bowl. Since Syracuse’s arrival in the ACC, this has regularly become one of Clemson’s spicier games. How do Syracuse players and fans view the rivalry with Clemson and has Clemson’s early struggles taken away some of the juice that this game might usually bring?
I think both fans and the team certainly recognize that this is a matchup that regularly produces some wild, worth-watching games. And after how last year’s contest ended for the Orange, there are definitely players who’ve had this one circled on the calendar. I don’t think Clemson’s rough start has done too much to dampen the anticipation. Those who pay enough attention to college football know the Tigers are still a good team that’s going to give Syracuse trouble, even if they aren’t the top-five program they’ve consistently been in recent years.
4) What are things Syracuse has to do to get the win this weekend?
For Syracuse, this game comes down to three things: One, getting on the scoreboard first and early in both halves; two, keeping Garrett Shrader healthy enough that he can use his feet the entire game; and three, forcing turnovers on defense and scrambling up Clemson’s offense. The Orange can maybe win with a combination of any two of those things, but do all three and I really think this one comes down to the wire.
5) And finally, do you have a prediction in mind?
Syracuse, 28. Clemson, 24. If there’s going to be a year that Syracuse can finally beat Clemson after a number of close contests in recent memory, I think it’s this one.
Thanks so much to Emily for joining us for this preview. You can check out more of her writing at Syracuse.com and follow her on Twitter @emleiker.