By Matson Montilla
On Friday, Sept. 15, the Clemson Tigers (3-2) will face off against the Syracuse Orange (3-3) under the bright lights of the Carrier Dome. Since Syracuse joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013, the teams have played eight times as Atlantic Division rivals.
Clemson is coming off a much needed bye week as they dealt with an astronomical amount of injuries, while Syracuse is coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to #16 Wake Forest at home.
Syracuse is not a team that should be slept on as their three losses are only by a combined total of 16 points to Rutgers, Florida State and now, Wake Forest. Furthermore, their new starting quarterback, Garrett Shrader, adds a new dynamic to the Orange's offense since he is an extremely effective dual-threat quarterback. In his past two games, Shrader has thrown for at least 150 yards and ran for at least 130 yards.
With the combination of Shrader's legs and Syracuse's potent running back group led by Sean Tucker, their rushing offense is becoming one of the best in the nation as they average 242.8 rushing yards per game (18th in college football). Added, 19 of their 24 offense touchdowns are on the ground.
As previously mentioned, Sean Tucker is the other face of this Syracuse offense. Tucker is one of the best running backs in college football, and he is arguably the best running back in the ACC. This season, Tucker has just under 1,000 total yards (995 total yards (791 rushing yards and 204 receiving yards)) to pair with 11 total touchdowns.
They also have a dominant defense that is led by defensive lineman Cody Roscoe (6.5 sacks) and linebacker Marlowe Wax (4 sacks and 22 tackles). Syracuse is tied for the fifth-most sacks in the nation (23 sacks), has the 22nd best total defense and holds opponents to an average of 24 points per game. Syracuse allows the 32nd fewest passing yards (194.2 yards per game) and the 32nd fewest rushing yards (113.8 ypg).
For Clemson to beat Syracuse, they need to do three things. Stop the Syracuse rushing attack, establish the run early and pass protect late.
Although stopping Syracuse's rushing attack is a heavy task, it is necessary since their entire offense is centered around the run. Syracuse runs three primary sets, which are options, handoffs and play actions. If Clemson can crowd the line of scrimmage and eliminate the run, Syracuse will have an extremely tough time moving the ball. Clemson should do a couple of things to stop the run: crowding the line of scrimmage and having a linebacker be a quarterback spy. Doing these things will virtually eliminate Sean Tucker from the game and force Shrader to pass the ball.
Next, Clemson needs to establish the run early and often. Not only will it allow the offense to move the ball down the field easier, it will also open the playbook up even more. Running backs Phil Mafah and Kobe Pace are effective and should be given the offense's reins, at least to start the game. By running the ball, Clemson will be able to set the pace of the offense and make Syracuse play Clemson's brand of football.
Added, running the ball will wear out Syracuse's front seven, which will help Clemson tremendously in the passing game as the game progresses. Don't be surprised to see offensive coordinator Tony Elliot take a page out of the Orange's playbook by running a few options with DJ Uiagalelei.
Finally, Clemson needs to pass protect late in the game. If Clemson does end up running the ball early on, this should be an easy task as Syracuse's front seven will be extremely tired by the end of the game. By giving Uiagalelei time in the pocket, he will be able to find his multitude of talented receivers with ease and give Clemson the final push to put the game away.