WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW AND PREDICTION FOR CLEMSON AT SYRACUSE
- 2023-09-29 17:48:56
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
This is not what any of us expected: a 2-2 start to the season. To make things even stranger, there are six 4-0 teams in the ACC right now—which has only happened one other time in a Power Five conference—and Clemson isn’t one of them. Two of those undefeated teams are Duke and Syracuse, a couple basketball schools that are usually at the bottom of the football standings. I can’t remember a more frustrating 2 losses—certainly not in a 4-game span—as the losses to Duke and FSU, 2 ranked teams that the Tigers outplayed and should have won by every law of statistics and probability. Clemson is 2nd nationally in first downs and 9th nationally in first downs allowed. Penn State is the only other team ranked in the top 10 for both, and the Nittany Lions are naturally 4-0 and ranked in the top 10. If not for 2 completely fluke games with several catastrophic mistakes in each, the Tigers would be 4-0 and ranked in the top 5. They completely outplayed No.3 FSU, holding their offense to 17 points and just 22 rush yards! However, a game-changing fumble, returned 70 yards for a touchdown, cost the Tigers 10-14 points. And yet the Tigers still would have won in regulation if they simply could have made a 29-yard field goal in the middle of the field that Potter would have made with his eyes closed last year. But for either of those things, everyone would be talking about how great Clemson is, and they would have completely forgotten about the Duke fluke, just like I predicted. Instead, the Tigers are 0-2 in ACC play for the first time since 2010 and have little hope of repeating as ACC champs with even less hope of making the playoff. They allowed 38 points off turnovers in 14 games last season and have already allowed 36 points off turnovers in the first 4 games! That’s how bizarre the turnovers have been, and coupled with the inability to make simple field goals, it’s been a lethal combination against top-20 teams. If they don’t lose another game this season—with one of the toughest schedules in the nation—I will go to my grave knowing that this team should have made the playoff and very well could have won another natty. But what is meant to be will be, and Clemson Nation will have to leave it in the rearview mirror, just like the players and coaches have their windshield mentality. This team has proven that it is good enough to beat anyone if they just stop giving the other team points and missing easy kicks. One or the other, just don’t do both in a game! There is still a slim chance for a rematch with FSU for the ACC Championship. Obviously, the Tigers have to win the rest of their ACC games, and they need Duke to lose at least twice. If Duke loses thrice, the Tigers are in business. If Duke loses twice, one of the losses needs to be a team the Tigers beat that also has 2 losses. For example, if Duke loses at FSU and at UNC, which is a pretty good possibility, and Clemson wins out, there could be a three-way tie between Clemson, Duke and UNC with each team having a head-to-head win. Incidentally, Duke hosts Notre Dame on Saturday night, but unfortunately, a loss to the Irish would not affect Duke’s ACC record.
That’s all big picture, of course. None of that happens if the Tigers don’t win the rest of their conference games, and you can’t win them all until you win one. That starts with beating Syracuse in the dome, and that can be tricky. It’s ironic that this game happens to fall at this time on the schedule, when the Tigers have suffered fluke after fluke in their first two conference games. Because those are usually the things that have plagued them against Syracuse! The Tigers played Cuse without their starting QB and kicker in 2017 and lost by 3 thanks to 2 missed easy field goals by the backup. The next year, Trevor Lawrence was knocked out of the game in the first quarter. Last season, the Tigers were cruising at 7-0 and DJ had played superbly until the Syracuse game, when he turned into a turnover machine and had to be replaced by Cade. Perhaps, since this is a bizarro season, Cuse will be a reversal of fortune, and the Tigers will win the turnover margin and special teams with the fluke plays happening to Cuse. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?! Maybe going on the road is just what the Tigers need right now to bond together and turn this thing around. It’s another noon game on ABC, but it’s Homecoming for Cuse, and they’re planning an orange-out, so the dome is going to be packed and loud.
Clemson is 9-2 versus Syracuse all-time, including 5 straight wins…Dabo is 14-4 against teams that were 4-0 or better and 13-3 since 2015…Clemson has not lost consecutive games in the same season since 2011…Saturday is the 127th anniversary of the formation of the Clemson Football Association in 1896. The Tigers played their first game a month later on October 31 of that year….Dabo is 32-8 following a loss….Syracuse QB Garrett Shrader leads the ACC in active career rush TD’s (35), and Will Shipley is 2nd with 27…Dabo is going for his 100th regular-season conference win, which would tie Frank Howard. The only other ACC head coach to reach the milestone is Bobby Bowden (117)… Clemson is 103-6 versus unranked teams since 2012…Clemson needs one sack to become the first program with 500 sacks since the 2012 season…Clemson has the most Power Five wins since 2013, with 2 more than Alabama and 6 more than Ohio State…Last week’s loss dropped Dabo (.799) just below Nick Saban (.801) on the all-time win percentage list. Dabo is now tied for 14th with Bob Stoops…
As mentioned, Cuse is off to a rare 4-0 start, but the schedule has been pretty light to this point with wins over Colgate, Western Michigan, Amry and at Purdue. Cuse’s success this season has been mostly thanks to its savvy, veteran quarterback, Garrett Shrader. The Tigers probably have more elite quarterbacks on their schedule than any team in the nation. 9 of their 12 opponents have exceptional quarterbacks, including 4 Heisman candidates. They just played one in Jordan Travis, and Duke’s Riley Leonard is the third-highest rated QB on Mel Kiper’s NFL Draft board. The Tigers still have to face Spencer Rattler, Brennan Armstrong as well as Heisman candidates Drake Maye, Sam Hartman and Tyler Van Dyke! They will face another great quarterback on Saturday in Shrader, who is not only a great passer, but he’s 2nd in the nation in active career rushing touchdowns. He already has 6 rush TD’s this season to go with his 6 TD passes. The 6’4, 225-pound senior from Charlotte has completed a career-best 66.7 percent of his passes this season for 972 yards with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He’s also averaging 6.9 yards per carry for 316 yards and 6 more TD’s. Shrader is not as nimble as Jordan Travis, but he’s big, hard to tackle and has enough speed to break long runs. He’s also a magician with his ball handling, so the Tigers will have to be ready for his ball fakes. The Tigers did a good job on Shrader last season in their 27-21 win in Death Valley. He was 18-26 for 167 yards, one TD and one INT. He had 21 carries for 71 yards and another touchdown, but the Tigers were able to sack him 5 times. The Tigers had no sacks at Duke and 2 sacks in each of the last 3 games, so if they’re able to sack Shrader 5 times again, I like their chances to win. In the Tigers’ 17-14 nail-biting win in the dome 2 years ago, Shrader also had one pass TD, one rush TD and one INT, but he was only 17-37 for 191 yards while rushing for just 6 yards on 7 carries. I expect his numbers to be better than that on Saturday.
Shrader has some big-play receivers at his disposal. 6’4, 200-pound junior Isaiah Jones (#80) has just 8 catches this season but averages 19.6 yards per catch with a pair of touchdowns. 6’3, 183-pound sophomore Umari Hatcher (#17) also has 2 TD’s and averages 17.3 yards per catch. 6’1, 178-pound freshman Donovan Brown (#87) averages 15.9 yards per catch with one score. 6’6, 210-pound junior Damien Alford (#5) leads the team with 17 catches and a score. They have 3 receivers 6’3 or taller, and Shrader spreads the ball around to these guys. Seven different players have a TD catch this season, including 6’5, 223-pound junior tight end Oronde Gadsen (#19).
Cuse lost one of the best running backs in the country over the past couple seasons, Sean Tucker, but they have still run the ball effectively with Shrader and their backs. They rely heavily on 6’5, 195-pound sophomore LeQuint Allen (#20), who’s rushed for 311 yards and 6 TD’s on 5 yards per carry. He also has 11 catches for 95 yards. 5’11, 188-pound freshman Ike Daniels (#23) has far less carries but averages 5.8 yards per.
Defensively, Cuse will mostly play with a 3-man front and a nickelback. Of their 13 sacks, 7.5 of them have come from the linebacker position. The Tigers’ offensive line and backs will have to do a good job against their stunts and blitzes. Remember, it was Mafah’s missed block on a blitzing linebacker that cost them the game against the Noles last week.
Sophomore place kicker Brady Denaburg is 6-7 this season with a long of 46 yards.
Cuse is ranked No.6 in scoring offense (44.3 points per game), No.17 in rushing offense (213.25 yards/game), No.22 in passing offense (294.5 yards/game) and No.9 in total offense (507.8 yards/game). It’s ranked No.7 in scoring defense (10.8 points per game), No.22 in rushing defense (89 yards/game), No.29 in pass defense (185.3 yards/game) and No.15 in total defense (274.3 yards/game). Cuse leads the ACC in turnover margin at +5, which is tied for 11th nationally. That’s bad news for the Tigers, who would be 4-0 if not for catastrophic turnovers.
The Tigers played their guts out against No.3 FSU last week but were haunted once again by a catastrophic turnover and missed easy field goal. I wrote in my preview last week that the Tigers would win if they at least broke even in special teams and turnovers, but they lost both. My 31-27 score prediction should have been just about on the money! We know this team is good enough to beat anyone. The only question is whether they will stop beating themselves. The good news is that we are seeing Cade grow up before our eyes. He has improved week by week and had his best game last week. He made some tremendous passes under duress and made some big plays with his legs. Both Shipley and Mafah were outstanding in the run and pass game. Each scored, and Shipley had one TD through the air and one on the ground. Despite missing two starting receivers in Cole Turner (out for season) and Antonio Williams, the receiving corps stepped up big time. Collins, Randall, Stellato and freshman Tyler Brown all made spectacular catches, as did tight end Jake Briningstool. The defense was phenomenal, holding the Noles’ potent offense to just 17 points and their explosive backfield to just 22 rushing yards. The Tigers out-gained the Noles 429 to 311 and had 25 first downs to the Noles’ 16. The Tigers average first down differential of +13 is a program record!
It's absolutely confounding that a team with this one’s stats is just 2-2, unranked and 0-2 in the ACC when it should be undefeated and ranked in the top 5 with a national championship in its sights. Dabo has never seen anything like it in his 30 years of coaching, and he said that the worm will turn at some point. Let’s hope that’s on Saturday! Dabo told me on Wednesday night that new kicker Jonathan Weitz has been solid in practice this week. He made all of his PAT’s and his first career field goal attempt last week but obviously missed the big one from 29 yards that would have won the game. That would be tough situation for anyone to be in, let alone a guy who never played in a meaningful game and hadn’t practiced until days before. Dabo will stick with Weitz for now but may give freshman Robert Gunn, who will continue kicking off, another chance if they elect to try a field goal over 50 yards in the dome.
The Tigers are in pretty good shape from a health standpoint, although they lost starting OG Walker Parks for the season. Starting corner Nate Wiggins, who has two pick-sixes in the last 6 games, will be a game day decision after injuring his leg at the end of regulation last week. Sophomore Jeadyn Lukus will start in his place if he can’t go.
I played basketball in the Carrier Dome many years ago. My high school team attended the Jim Boeheim camp for two summers, and we won the end-of-week tournament my senior year. I can tell you that place messes with your depth perception big time. I air-balled my first few shots because it feels like you’re playing on an outdoor court even though you’re not. That can also have an effect on football players that have never played there before. Freshman Tyler Brown, who has emerged as one of the Tigers’ biggest weapons, will have to adjust to the environment on punt returns and long passes, locating the football. It might also be tricky for kickers, and we all know how much trouble the Tigers have had making field goals already!
Just like last week, I believe that the Tigers will win this game if they break even in turnovers and special teams. They may even be able to overcome a couple mistakes, but let’s hope we don’t find out. Crazy things seem to happen at Syracuse, and this has been a crazy season, so I think that worm will finally turn on Saturday, and the Tigers will finally get in the ACC win column.
The Prowl toward another ACC Championship continues….
CLEMSON 38 Syracuse 20
Never miss the latest news from CUTigers!
Join our free email list