WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.1 CLEMSON vs. SYRACUSE
- 2020-10-23 17:24:38
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers were nearly a unanimous No.1 this week after a historic 73-7 trouncing of Tech in Atlanta. It was the largest margin of victory ever in an ACC game, and the Tigers led 52-7 at the half before pulling all of their starters! Trevor Lawrence played his best half of football yet, going 22-27 for 391 yards and 5 touchdowns in the first half. The Tigers racked up 671 total yards, and an astonishing 17 players caught a pass with 9 different players scoring touchdowns. Even punter Will Spiers played QB and completed 2 of his 3 passes! As Dabo said after the game, it was the Tigers’ most complete game yet. When the backups came in, there was little drop-off, and that’s what he was looking for. For a recap of the game, click HERE.
The Tigers return to Death Valley on Saturday to face Syracuse, and you will see an abundance of pink on the players and coaches, as it is the annual Breast Cancer Awareness Game. Please click HERE to donate to Dabo’s All In fund for breast cancer research. Many people will naturally bring up the fact that the Tigers’ last regular season loss way back on Friday the 13th of October in 2017 was at Syracuse. However, they usually forget to point out that the Tigers were without their starting quarterback and kicker that night. Now, I was at the game, and yes, Cuse played great, and the Clemson defense did not. However, the Tigers would have won even without a quarterback if starting kicker Greg Huegel hadn’t suffered a season-ending ACL injury days before. Backup kicker Austin Spence missed 2 easy field goals, and the Tigers lost by 3 points. Of course, the following year was nearly déjà vu, as the Tigers lost starting QB Trevor Lawrence in the first half, but the Tigers were able to rally and win the game thanks to Travis Etienne and backup QB Chase Brice. When the Tigers finally made it through an entire game against Cuse with their starting quarterback, it was an absolute blowout in the Carrier Dome last season. With the assumption that there will be no quarterback injuries this time either, the Tigers are a whopping 46-point favorite, and that number is moving up! It’s the fourth-largest point spread in ACC history. The Tigers were just a 28-point favorite last week, but I had them winning by 49. We’ll see if they can match last week’s total domination for 60 minutes against a struggling Syracuse team. On to the matchup!
This is the 125th season of Clemson Football….The Tigers look to win at least 10 games for the 10th straight year under Dabo Swinney, joining Alabama and Florida State as the only programs ever to do so….Clemson is the only program to have won 5 consecutive outright ACC titles and the only program in the nation to win 5 consecutive conference championship games….If Clemson goes 14-0 this season (they play one less regular season game than normal), the senior class will tie last year’s group at 55-3, the best record of any senior class in history….At 74-5, Clemson has the best record in the nation since 2015; 4 wins better than Alabama and 13 wins better than Ohio State. Clemson is 2 wins behind Alabama for the most wins since 2011….Clemson has the most wins versus Power Five opponents since 2013; 11 more than Ohio State and 8 more than Alabama….Dabo now has the nation’s best active win percentage at .812. Nick Saban’s is .790. Dabo also holds the best all-time win percentage in ACC games at .833. Bobby Bowden’s was .813….Only 6 times has a team won 12 or more games in a season against Power Five opponents. Clemson, FSU and LSU are the only programs to have done it, and 4 of the 6 times were by Clemson, which remains the only program ever to win 13 games against Power Five opponents in one season, accomplished in 2018…..Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban are the only head coaches in history to reach No.1 in the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons….Clemson has played in the 15th most games as AP No.1. If the Tigers remain No.1 until the National Championship Game, they will pass Michigan for 12th most games played as No.1….Dabo is tied with former rival Steve Spurrier for 18th most games coached as AP No.1. He will tie Jim Tressel on Saturday for 17th. If the Tigers remain No.1 until the National Championship Game, Dabo will tie his childhood hero Bear Bryant for 9th most games coached as No.1. Dabo is the only multiple recipient of the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award, winning in 2015, 2016 and 2018….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 83 weeks, the third-longest streak all-time. Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 5 for 46 consecutive weeks, by far the longest active streak and tied with Miami for sixth-longest streak all-time. The next-longest active streak is Georgia at 13 weeks. Ohio State had 14 consecutive weeks before their exclusion due to the Big Ten’s season postponement. If Clemson remains in the Top 5 all season, it will pass Miami for the second-longest streak all-time. If the Tigers remain in the Top 5 from now until the ACC Championship next season, they will pass Alabama for the longest such streak all-time….Clemson’s run of 5 straight top-5 finishes is tied for the sixth-longest streak all-time. One more, and the Tigers will tie Oklahoma; two more and they will tie three other schools for the second-longest streak. FSU has the record at 14 straight top-5 finishes under Bobby Bowden….If Clemson finishes in the top 2 of the AP Poll this season, it will join Miami as the only programs to finish in the top 2 in 5 of 6 seasons…..Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive 12-win seasons (5) since Penn in 1892. One more would move Clemson ahead of Alabama, which won 11 games last season….Clemson has won 25 straight home games dating back to 2016, the longest active streak in the nation. Only 9 fifth-year seniors on the 120-man Clemson roster have experienced a loss in Death Valley. The Tigers are an FBS-best 44-1 at home since 2014….Clemson has won 37 straight non-bowl games, tied with Nebraska for third-most all-time. 2 more will tie Miami for 2nd. Oklahoma holds the record at 45….Clemson has won 26 straight games against ACC opponents, the third-longest streak all-time. FSU holds the record at 29 straight….Clemson has won 48 straight Saturday games, the longest such streak of all time…..If the Clemson makes the College Football Playoff for a sixth consecutive year, it will be the first program ever to do so, and Dabo Swinney will join basketball legend John Wooden as the only coaches in any sport to make a Final Four playoff 6 years in a row…..Clemson leads Syracuse 6-2 all-time, meeting for the first time in 1995. The Tigers lost that Gator Bowl to Donovan McNabb and Syracuse. Their only other loss to Cuse was their last regular season loss, on Friday the 13th of October 2017. Clemson was without its starting quarterback and kicker, losing by 3 points after missing 2 easy field goals…..
It’s been a brutal start to the 2020 season for Dino Babers and the Cuse. They have been beset by injuries and are 1-4 on the season, most recently losing at home 38-21 to Liberty. And Cuse was a home underdog in that game! The Orange somehow managed to beat Georgia Tech 37-20 but followed that with a 2-touchdown home loss to Duke, giving the Devils their only win of the season, and the home loss to Liberty. Headlining their many injuries this season is starting quarterback Tommy DeVito, and Rex Culpepper was forced to start the Liberty game in his place. Culpepper is a veteran and a great story. Fittingly, as this is the Breast Cancer Awareness Game, Culpepper is a testicular cancer survivor. As a senior, he showed a good command of the offense, as you would expect, and he made a couple nice long throws last week. He was 19-40 for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns with one interception. Not bad at all for a quarterback making his first career start. He also accounted for Cuse’s only touchdown in the loss to Pitt. Culpepper is not a great runner, but he does have long hair like Trevor Lawrence!
Cuse has also suffered injuries at the running back position. The Orange are now relying on 5’10, 202-pound freshman Sean Tucker (#34). He rushed for 111 yards last week, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, but did not score. On the season, he has rushed for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry.
At receiver, 6’2, 164-pound junior Taj Harris (#3) is their best big play man and leads all their WR stats. He has 26 catches for 434 yards (16.7 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns. He has a TD in each of their last 4 games. 6’2, 193-pound sophomore Anthony Queeley (#14) is their next-best receiver. He has 15 catches for 162 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season last week.
Syracuse has a new offensive coordinator this season, but it's still the same base offense Dino Babers has employed in past seasons, and they still intend to use super fast tempo on offense. It will be difficult for Venables to rotate players in and out unless Cuse substitutes on offense.
Defensively, Cuse has 8 interceptions, which is third in the nation. 3 of those belong to sophomore LB Mikel Jones (#13), and 5 other players each have one. Trevor Lawrence threw his first interception in a year last week on an ill-advised pass, so he’ll have to be careful on Saturday. Cuse has 10 sacks this season, tied for 27th nationally. Senior DL Josh Black (#85) and senior Kingsley Jonathan (#9) lead the team with 2 each.
Finally, Syracuse still has junior Andre Szmyt kicking field goals. You may recall he won the Lou Groza Award in 2018 as a freshman when he made 30 of 34 field goals. Surprisingly, he's only 5-7 so far this season and has even missed a PAT. His long this season is 48 yards, but he made a 54-yarder as a freshman.
Cuse is ranked No.68 in scoring offense (19.6 points/game), No.74 in total offense (264.8 yards/game), No.74 in rush offense (81.40 yards/game) and No.63 in pass offense (183.4 yards/game). The Orange is ranked No.40 in scoring defense (29.6 points/game), No.67 in total defense (484.6 yards/game), No.72 in rush defense (252.6 yards/game) and No.33 in pass defense (232.0 yards/game). Cuse is No.1 in turnover margin and No.3 in interceptions.
The Tigers are in great shape physically and mentally. They are the most complete team in the country right now and playing at as high a level in all three phases as anyone could want. As usual, Dabo cleared the bench last week, playing 79 of 80 players. Ironically, the only one who didn’t see the field was backup QB DJ Uiagalelei, who Dabo said was sore from the Miami game. Third-string QB Taisun Phommachanh broke a bone in his hand during the Tech game, and walk-on Hunter Helms was impressive in his second appearance of the season, throwing 2 touchdown passes to set a Clemson walk-on record.
Trev and Trav, of course, continue to play like the Heisman front-runners they are, and the starting offensive line has been outstanding. Freshman OT Walker Parks has been a pleasant surprise, seeing steady playing time, and he even played on both sides of the line last week. Another freshman, WR EJ Williams, made a couple nice first down catches last week early in the game, and you can expect to see much more of him as the season goes on. We also finally got a glimpse of why Dabo was so effusive in his praise for freshman WR Ajou Ajou throughout camp. The Canadian made a brilliant TD catch that was overturned because his heel touched the pylon, and then he scored again on an amazing run after the catch. Surprisingly, Braden Galloway was not one of the 17 players to catch a pass last week after his 2-touchdown performance against Miami. He did not play a ton of snaps, however, and Davis Allen picked up the slack with his second TD of the season. Amari Rodgers continues to carry the load at WR, scoring 2 more touchdowns last week and was co-offensive MVP with Trevor. Cornell Powell scored his first TD of the season last week as well. Frank Ladson had a bad TD drop for the second straight game but bounced back again with a TD catch shortly after. The drops seem to be purely psychological and on the same route, so he just needs repetition at practice. Joseph Ngata recorded his first catch since the opener, so watch to see if he has a breakout game on Saturday. When he is back to his old self, this offense will be all the more impossible to stop!
On the defensive side, Xavier Thomas played 20 snaps last week after just 3 against Miami at the end of the game. He’s still not 100%, but he’s getting there! The Tigers don’t have any other injuries to speak of aside from Phommachanh. His break is in the left hand, so he was able to practice this week, but you likely won’t see him on Saturday. I expect to see DJ come in first off the bench and then Hunter Helms in the fourth quarter. On a side note, Justyn Ross practiced in full pads this week for the first time since his summer neck surgery. Don’t expect him to play at all this season, but Dabo said he is looking great. Be sure to check HERE about 2 hours before kickoff for a final list of unavailable players!
Clemson is ranked No.3 in scoring offense (48.4 points/game), No.8 in total offense (530.6 yards/game), No.31 in rushing offense (182.6 yards/game) and No.10 in passing offense (348.0 yards/game). The Tigers are No.5 in scoring defense (12.0 points/game), No.3 in total defense (264.6 yards/game), No.11 in rush defense (96.4 yards/game) and No.9 in pass defense (168.2 yards/game). They are 2nd in sacks (22) behind Pitt, 2nd in tackles-for-loss (50) behind Pitt, tied for 7th in interceptions (6) and tied for 11th in turnover margin. Clemson is the only team in the top 5 for both scoring offense and scoring defense, is the only team in the top 8 for both total offense and total defense.
I’ll make this short and sweet because it won’t take long for this one to be over. The talent and depth disparity in this game is about as great as you’ll see in an ACC game, and the Tigers are playing at as high a level as they have over their 26-game ACC win streak. Make it 27 straight ACC wins, 26 straight home wins, 38 straight non-bowl wins and 49 straight Saturday wins! The Tigers could score 100 in this one if they wanted to, and they pitch their second shutout of the season.
The Prowl toward a 6th consecutive ACC Title, 6th consecutive College Football Playoff, 3rd consecutive National Championship Game and 4th National Title continues……
CLEMSON 59 Syracuse 0
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