Unfortunately, the Syracuse Orange have lost six straight games now. More unfortunate than that: they need to beat the No. 1-ranked Clemson Tigers if they have any hope of remaining bowl-eligible. Dammit.
Below, Mark Gordon from SB Nation's Shakin the Southland stops by to share everything we'll need to know around the Tigers. We answered some questions over there too, which you can check out here.
(Ed note: To everyone on both sides, please be civil toward one another. We know how this goes every year...)
Obviously Clemson expected success this season, but is the no. 1 ranking in the first two College Football Playoff ballots more than you'd all imagined going in?
Clemson fans did expect big things from the Tigers this season, but with over 40 Freshman and Redshirt Freshman on the roster, the fans believed that we were just to young and that 2016 was going to be Clemson’s year. Personally, I felt that Clemson was heading for a 10-2 or 9-3 season, but the development of the youth has progressed quickly launching Clemson to the top of the polls.
Dabo Swinney and the Tigers had an... interesting relationship with now-retired South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. What's your take on the Head Ball Coach, both in your rivalry and in his career?
The relationship between Clemson and South Carolina intensified after Spurrier took the helm. Spurrier couldn’t seem to keep Clemson out of his press conferences throughout the regular season, which prompted some epic rants from Dabo Swinney. The rivalry will definitely change with the retirement of Spurrier, but it is hard to not respect the man’s overall career with 12 ten win seasons and a national championship. The game will not be the same without him.
What's been the big difference between this year's team and last year's team? Just Deshaun Watson's health? Or something more?
You hit the nail on the head with Deshaun Watson and his health. The four most popular words in the offseason up until opening day were "can he stay healthy"? Clemson had to replace a majority of its #1 ranked defense from a year ago, but Brent Venables managed to fill the holes through strong recruiting and rotational players. The names may be different from last year, but the results are similar.
Chad Morris had a huge impact on what was a high-powered Clemson offense. How has the team gotten by without him?
Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott have taken over calling the plays since Morris departed for SMU, and they have a working knowledge of the system that Morris installed. The biggest difference between the three is that Scott and Elliott simplified the playbook prior to the season and poured over hours of tape from the previous season seeing what worked and what didn’t with the previous system. The playbook may be simplified for the youth, but has been equally as effective.
If there's one unsung player Syracuse fans should get familiar with before this game, who might that be?
It is hard to think of a player who has been more unsung than walk on wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow took over a starting position a couple of weeks ago and has strong route running abilities and sure hands. Starting in the slot, Clemson looks for him in 3rd and medium situations and has the speed to beat defenders down the field.
Who's the one Orange player that has Clemson fans most concerned leading up to this one?
Clemson has been susceptible to the big play, and one player that we will be keeping an eye in is sophomore Wide Receiver Steve Ishmael. Ishmael will more than likely be bracketed by Mackensie Alexander, who is arguably the best defensive back in the country. If Syracuse can find a way to get him away from Alexander, he has the chance to make the big play in the passing game.
Have we disrespected Clemson this week? How might we do so, if not?
If there is one thing that has bothered this team throughout the season it has been the use of the term "Clemsoning". Dabo Swinney does not like dwelling on the past and comparing this team to other teams. I haven’t seen anything disrespectful coming out of Syracuse leading up to this game, but Clemson fans certainly don’t want to hear that word coming out of anyone’s mouths.
(Ed. Note: *clears throat* "CLEMSONING")
What does Clemson need to do to win big up at Syracuse?
Although not widely known, Clemson has been a run first team this year. RB Wayne Gallman is 33 yards away from 1,000 for the season, and Clemson will have to establish the run for the passing game to be effective. If Gallman can break 100 yards for the 7th time this season, I expect Clemson to be able to effectively move up and down the field.
Prediction time: how's this mismatch play out?
Syracuse plays well in the Carrier Dome and I expect this game to stay close for the first half, but expect Clemson to pull away in the 2nd half. I see Clemson with a 21 point victory on Saturday afternoon.
Thanks again for taking the time out for these, Mark! And again, please play nice with one another..