After a heartbreaking loss to Florida State last weekend, Clemson faces a tough test on the road this Saturday. Traveling to New York to play a very good Syracuse team is going to be no easy task. Currently sitting at 0-2 in the ACC, the Tigers need to get a conference win. Clemson needs a victory if it wants any chance at an ACC championship game bid. While Clemson has controlled this series historically, this year’s matchup will be a big challenge.
The History Behind the Match-Up
Clemson and Syracuse have played each other a total of 11 times in their history. The Orange won the first-ever meeting in 1996. Right now, the Tigers are leading the series 9-2. Nine of these games have been since Syracuse joined the ACC, in which Clemson is 8-1 in conference matchups. The last Syracuse win over Clemson was a 2017 upset at Syracuse. The Tigers have beaten the Orange five straight games now since then. The last meeting between these schools was last season in Death Valley where Clemson won 27-21.
Players to Keep an Eye on for Syracuse
Syracuse has been a team slowly ascending as a team to look out for in the ACC. It starts with head coach Dino Babers who is in his eighth season at Syracuse. This is his third head coaching job and he currently holds a 73-64 record as a head coach. At Syracuse, he is 40-49 and sitting at 4-0 to start the season. In his tenure for the Orange, he has gotten his ranked top 25 in three of the last five seasons. Babers has turned Syracuse into a tough program to beat any year he has been there.
Much of the early success of this season should also go to quarterback Garrett Shrader. In his three seasons at Syracuse, Shrader has really been the biggest piece of the Orange offense. Since becoming the starter he has completed 400 of 659 passes for 5057 yards and 32 touchdowns. He has also rushed 369 times for 1550 yards and 29 touchdowns. Against Clemson last year he played well and was a big reason for the score staying close. Shrader went 18 for 26 passing for 167 yards, one touchdown, and threw one interception. He added on 21 rushes for 71 yards and another touchdown as well. The team, more specifically the offense, goes as Shrader goes. If he is having a great game, especially running the ball it will be a long day. If he is able to be contained though, the Orange will struggle to get anything at all going.
Who to Watch on Defense
On defense, the guy the Tigers will have to pay much attention to is Marlowe Wax. The junior linebacker does a little bit of everything for Syracuse. In 2022 he was named an All-ACC honorable mention. So far in 2023, he has been showing why he should be much more than that. Wax has already filled up the stat sheet this season racking up 31 total tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, one pass breakup, and two forced fumbles. Wax can make plays in both the run and passing game. Stopping the run though is his specialty along with the whole Orange defense.
Importance of This Game
As of right now, Clemson is 0-2 in conference games. This has the Tigers 13th in the current ACC standings. If they want even a chance at playing in the ACC Championship game, they must win the rest of their games. It starts this week against a Syracuse team that Clemson can not take lightly. In fact, this Syracuse team is similar in some ways to the Duke team the Tigers lost to in week one.
Both teams have an offense that revolves around the quarterback. Each quarterback’s best ability is how they run the ball, constantly keeping the defense on their heels. Shrader is Syracuse’s leading rusher right now. They also both have defenses that are very good at taking the ball away to give their quarterback more opportunities to score. If Clemson wants to show the Duke game was truly a fluke loss and the team has improved since then it has the best chance to prove it this week.
Clemson’s Keys to Win
If the Tigers want to win this game they must protect the football. It has been the thing that has plagued them in three of the first four games. Turnovers are what lost them both ACC matchups this season so far. Syracuse is very good at taking the ball away too. So far, Syracuse has 10 takeaways this season. That is tied for third-most in the FBS right now. If the Tigers can hold onto the football and even create a couple of turnovers themselves, they could be dominant in this game.
The other thing Clemson must try to do is really establish the run. Syracuse’s defense first and main objective is always to stop the run. On average Syracuse is only giving up 89 yards a game on the ground right now. However, the Orange have not faced a team with a running back duo as talented as Will Shipley and Phil Mafah yet. Army was the first team to rush for over 100 yards against Syracuse last week and gave the Orange a bit of trouble early in the game. If Shipley and Mafah get going it will put pressure on the Orange defense to get more aggressive in defending the run. This should open up throws down the field for Cade Klubik.
Lastly but most importantly the Tiger defense must contain Shrader. If Shrader is able to have a balanced attack and gets his legs moving, it is going to be hard to stop Syracuse. Keeping Shrader in the pocket will be key. When Shrader is forced to stay in the pocket and pass the ball he starts having a hard time. When this happens, he tends to throw an interception or two. It will then be up to Clemson to capitalize. Win on the ground and the turnover battle then the Tigers should win the game.