SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) Sports Director Steve Infanti provides his keys to an SU win against the Clemson Tigers.
So much of the attention with Clemson’s prolific offense goes to Trevor Lawrence, and rightfully so. He’s most likely a future #1 NFL draft pick, he’s one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy, and he’s never lost a game in college after leading the Tigers to an unbeaten season and a national title as a freshman. However, the bigger challenge for the Orange defense, just might be trying to slow down junior tailback Travis Etienne. In two games against Syracuse, Etienne has rushed for 271 yards and four touchdowns. With Lawrence knocked out of last year’s game in Death Valley, it was Etienne who came to the rescue and won that game by punishing the SU defense on the final drive. The Clemson rushing attack is of even greater concern when you consider how much success Maryland had on the ground last weekend. The Terps racked up more than 350 rushing yards in a 43-point win while averaging about eight yards per carry. The SU defense was plagued by poor tackling and missed assignments. Brian Ward’s unit better find a way to improve from last week and keep the Clemson running game in check or it could be a very long night.
Two years ago in the Dome, SU jumped in front of Clemson with a touchdown just over three minutes into the game. The fans got into it, the players started to believe, and enough things broke right for the Orange to pull off the upset. The Tigers went 2-for-11 on third-down conversions that night, aided by a raucous crowd. That’s not too different from what happened last weekend in College Park, Maryland. The Terps were able to score a couple of early touchdowns, knocking the Orange to the mat, and Syracuse was never able to fully recover. If SU is going to upset the top-ranked team in the country, the sold-out crowd is going to have a hand in it. ‘Cuse needs to deliver the first punch, just like two years ago, and see where things go from there. If Clemson is able to get an early cushion though, you have to wonder if the Orange will be have enough firepower to comeback against this elite opponent.
‘Cuse Keep Away
Interestingly enough, the team that won the turnover battle in the last two meetings actually lost the game. Turnovers were a big reason why Syracuse was in position to win last year’s contest down in Death Valley. The Tigers gave it away three times last fall, once inside the red zone, allowing the Orange to very nearly knock off the eventual national champs. In 2017, Clemson did not commit a single turnover against Syracuse. Instead, it was SU’s ball-control offense that led to the upset. As I mentioned, the Tigers struggled on third down that night and SU took advantage. Eric Dungey and company put together long, sustained drives and kept the ball away from Clemson. The Orange had almost 10 more minutes of possession time than the Tigers did (34:52-25:08) and 12 more first downs. As much as Dino Babers and Mike Lynch love the offense to move fast, it might be wise for them to slow down a touch on Saturday in an effort to keep the ball out of Trevor Lawrence’s hands and shorten the game.