Only two unbeaten teams remain in the ACC, and they meet up when Syracuse travels to Death Valley to take on Clemson. The 14th-ranked Orange are one of the nation's surprise teams and find themselves at 6-0 after knocking off NC State in the Dome last Saturday.
Clemson won't have its open date until next weekend, so the fifth-ranked Tigers got their seventh win when they beat Florida State in Tallahassee in their most recent game. The Tigers were leading 34-14 going into the fourth quarter before the Seminoles reached the end zone twice to make the score a respectable 34-28.
Clemson has an 8-2 all-time lead in the series and has been victorious in the last four contests.
No. 14 Syracuse at No. 5 Clemson
When Syracuse Has the Ball
With Sean Tucker at running back, opponents came into the year focusing on the Orange rushing attack. And though his numbers are a bit off of last year's pace, Tucker is still trending toward a 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown season. He also remains a major receiving threat out of the backfield with 23 catches on the season.
Where the Syracuse offense has taken off is in the passing game. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has gone from completing 53 percent of his pass attempts in 2021 to just a tick under 70 percent this fall. His average yards per attempt has jumped 3.3 yards, and he has a 12:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While Tucker is a major pass-catching threat, the prime beneficiary of the new-look Shrader has been Oronde Gadsen II. The redshirt freshman leads the team with 31 catches for 507 yards and five TDs.
While the Cuse offense has to remain balanced, throwing the ball is the way opponents have had success against Clemson. The Tigers are 12th in the ACC in pass defense, and they have given up a number of big chunk plays. Injuries have adversely affected the defense and the secondary, in particular, has had to get by with some inexperienced players. But guys like Bryan Bresee and Sheridan Jones are starting to come back, and as this unit gets closer to full health, the hope is that the pass defense improves.
When Clemson Has the Ball
The Tigers have been consistent offensively this season, scoring at least 30 points in each of their seven games. While the progression of quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has been the major reason why Clemson has put up points, the play of Will Shipley cannot be overlooked. The sophomore from Weddington, North Carolina, has 703 total yards from scrimmage and has crossed the goal line eight times. The offensive line also has improved this year as Shipley has had better running lanes than he had last year and Uiagalelei has had more time to throw.
As Uiagalelei has stepped forward, so has the receiving corps. True freshman Antonio Williams leads the team in catches and receiving yardage; Clemson has also been able to get a variety of its pass catchers involved as seven players have double-digit receptions. The tight ends have been more of a factor than they've been in recent years, with Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool combining for 32 catches and seven touchdowns.
Clemson needs both aspects of its offense clicking this week because Syracuse features the country's No. 8 total defense. The Orange lead the ACC in scoring, total, and pass defense and are second in run defense, so it's hard to determine exactly how the Tigers should attack. The Cuse secondary and linebacking groups are extremely strong, led by playmakers Garrett Williams, Mikel Jones, and Marlowe Wax. This defense can create havoc, but the unit also is fundamentally sound and doesn't allow many big plays.
Syracuse will not be intimidated going into Memorial Stadium. Though the Orange have never won at Clemson, they have played the Tigers tough in recent years, including their upset victory at home in 2017 and a near miss on the road in 2018. Most of these players were around last year when the Tigers squeaked by with a 17-14 win in the Dome in upstate New York. And this is a Syracuse team with a different confidence level in 2022. At the same time, Clemson is not the same team it was in 2021. The Orange have had a great run so far, but they have not seen the level of talent that the Tigers possess on both sides of the ball. Although It will not be easy, Clemson will slow Tucker down, put pressure on Shrader, and score enough points up to win.
Prediction: Clemson 27, Syracuse 20
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– Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
*Price as of publication.