You don’t have to remindClemson that Syracuse is coming to town this week. They know. The Tigers remember well what happened on that crazy Friday the 13th of October in the Carrier Dome last year. Yes, Kelly Bryant was banged up and eventually had to leave the game. But the reasons Clemson lost went beyond their quarterback’s injury.
Now the Cuse team that comes to Death Valley is riding a four-game winning streak. The last time the Orange began a season 4-0 was way back in 1991, a season that culminated with a Hall of Fame Bowl win over Ohio State.
Syracuse is miles away from that kind of season right now, and their visit to Clemson will be their biggest test of the year. The Tigers played their most complete game of 2018 last Saturday, dismantling Georgia Tech 49-21.
Syracuse at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Clemson -23
Three Things to Watch
1. Trevor Lawrence’s first start
Even after Bryant was announced as the starter for the season opener against Furman, most expected that it was only a matter of time before the prized freshman took over the starting reins. Against Georgia Tech, Lawrence was more effective and made plays that Bryant couldn’t, like the beautiful touchdown strike to Hunter Renfrow while rolling to his left. Lawrence has a higher yards per attempt on the season, meaning he can stretch defenses with longer throws. Against a Syracuse team that is No. 100 against the pass, it’s the perfect time for Lawrence to take on a bigger role. As a result, Bryant intends to transfer to another program according to The Greenville News.
2. Eric Dungey and the Syracuse passing game
Surprisingly, a Syracuse rushing attack that finished 70th in the nation last year is averaging 278 yards per game. But Clemson is giving up just 104 yards per game on the ground, and that’s with consecutive games against run-first teams in Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech. Where Clemson struggled in a close victory over Texas A&M was in pass coverage. Hello, Eric Dungey. The veteran Orange quarterback is a true dual-threat guy, as he leads the team in rushing with 354 yards. But his arm is what could give Clemson a difficult time. If the Cuse has any success on the ground, it will be opened up by Dungey throwing to Jamal Custis, Sean Riley, and Nykeim Johnson.
3. Clemson offensive line vs. the Syracuse defensive line
One of the shocking early-season developments is the play of the Syracuse defensive front. A group that gave up 197 yards rushing yards per game last year has allowed only 131 per contest this season. In 2017, the Orange had just 16 sacks on the season; they already have 13 through four games. To be fair, the Orange haven’t exactly played a killer schedule so far, especially with Florida State not looking like Florida State. Clemson’s offensive line was a bit suspect against Texas A&M but played very well against Georgia Tech last Saturday. A key matchup to watch will be Syracuse defensive end Alton Robinson battling with Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt.
The lack of real competition doesn’t matter all that much; Dino Babers’ Orange look like a different group this year. They are stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback, things they have struggled to do in the past. Offensively, they still go 1,000 miles per hour, but they have developed a quality running game, which gives the team greater balance. The problem is that much of the rushing attack centers around Eric Dungey, and the Cuse does not need their fragile signal-caller to go down again. Clemson had its best performance of the year last week in Atlanta, and it’s no coincidence that Trevor Lawrence saw the bulk of the action at quarterback. He will get his first start this week, and that will bring some energy to Memorial Stadium at noon on Saturday. Syracuse will hang around for the first half, but the bigger, faster Tigers will open things up in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Clemson 37, Syracuse 21
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.