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Syracuse vs. Clemson football preview: Q&A with Shakin the Southland

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Four years in, are we finally (sorta) friends?

CFP National Championship - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange are 4-4 coming off their bye week. Their reward? A road trip to Clemson, S.C. and a date with the second-ranked team in the nation, the Clemson Tigers. You’re aware of our four-year internet war with portions of the Tigers’ fan base. Well, this might be the year all of that vanishes. Without Scott Shafer at the helm, we start anew with Clemson. I, for one, am willing to give this a second try. Won’t you?

Below, Brian Lewis from Shakin the Southland (who you should follow on Twitter) joins us to discuss everything you’ll need to know about the Tigers. We answer some questions over there too, which you can check out here.

What the hell happened the last two years? Despite a clear talent advantage for you guys, we've seen two very weird, close (score-wise) games.

Well, two years ago was Cole 3 and Stoudt so I wasn't surprised that the game was so close. When your QB can't pass it doesn't matter how talented everyone else is on the team. Last year was interesting though, Clemson had a number of games late where they took a solid lead by halftime and then coasted in the second half. Some of that was just poor execution on offense while the early bye week, coming in September, really hurt Clemson on defense later. That kept everything closer than many would like, but thankfully there wasn't a serious challenge like we've seen this year against NC State or Troy.

Clemson won a close one on Saturday vs. Florida State. Do Tigers fans consider it a sign of a team that can win close games, or more indicative of struggles vs. quality opponents?

The dirty secret this year is that this team isn't quite as talented as last year. Yeah, everyone likes to talk about the offense returning most players and getting Mike Williams back, but the OL has suffered due to departures and that has hurt everything. Despite all the changes in college football the OL and DL are the keys to success and you're seeing that at Clemson. On the DL the key departures have been replaced with close to equal talent and the defense seems to be just as good as advertised unless the secondary gets stressed. On offense the OL hasn't worked out and we've struggled.

That said this team definitely has the makeup to win close games. Even when it seems hopeless Clemson can come back and win which will be critical down the stretch, but I'd like to see the Tigers reduce the unforced errors and make a few of these games a little more easier to watch.

The Tigers' rushing attack isn't nearly as effective as it was last year. What's caused the drop from 2015's quality effort there?

The big answer is the OL. Clemson replaced two starters on the OL and the chemistry and ability is just off. These guys aren't getting that push we saw last year and they often look confused. Earlier this year we were all hoping that it was just a time and experience thing, but at this point in the season I just think the OL isn't as good as last year in the run game. Because of this we often keep the RB in to block and a TE as well. It makes for a frustrating situation when we are faced with a second- or third-and-short situation, especially with a talented Wayne Gallman running the ball.

Speaking of the offense, Clemson's overall production has dropped off a bit too. Any specific reason(s) for that?

Two main reasons, the first is the run blocking from the OL that I mentioned above, and the second is that Deshaun Watson isn't quite as accurate on the deep ball this year. Last year he completed about 43-percent of his passes that went 20-plus yards in the air. This year he's only completing 30-percent or so. And when you watch him most of the balls are off by five yards or so and not maybe a step or two that you'd normally see. Without the running game threat and the inability to easily take the top off of the defense Clemson isn't quite as lethal as normal.

Have you guys noticed Syracuse at all this year? Anything stand out as different from previous, Scott Shafer iterations?

Well I'm guessing it is more likely y'alls coach doesn't start cussing at Dabo during the game? But on the field I think the biggest thing that's impressed me from what I've seen is that you can already see a bit of a culture shift at Syracuse. Obviously the talent and execution on the field is going to take some time as Babers brings in the right guys for what he wants to do, but I was particularly impressed against Louisville where y'all seemed much more feisty than past years. Even when the game was close against us the past two years it didn't seem like Syracuse was really fighting for the win. But changing that can make a big difference and position Syracuse well to challenge everyone in the coming years.

The Tigers have obviously used tempo on offense in the past, so it's far from a foreign concept. How do you think Clemson's defense can deal with SU's up-tempo, no-huddle attack?

As with so much of defense, it is going to be all on our DL. With all the talent we have on the DL we should be able to disrupt an up-tempo attack by getting into the backfield and attacking the QB. Without a rhythm or the ability to move the chains the HUNH offense is usually in trouble and then the defense wears down because the offense can't stay on the field. If Syracuse has time to throw I think there could be some trouble given what Babers has done so far at Syracuse.

Syracuse's defense has improved over the course of the season, but still has a penchant for struggling against big, fast receivers. Should we expect four- and five-wide for much of this contest?

I don't know that Clemson will do much of that. I think you're much more likely to see three-receiver sets with the RB coming out of the backfield or the TE sneaking out into the middle of the field. Clemson will still use some 4/5 WR sets, but because of our OL issues the staff seems perfectly fine to keep extra blockers in and then trust our receivers to get open and Deshaun Watson to make a play.

Clemson wins this one going away by _____.

Establishing the running game. Last year, the secret to Clemson's success was Wayne Gallman and Deshaun Watson running the ball. If Clemson has success on the ground it is going to be a long day for Syracuse more like our first meeting. If the running game is anemic then I think Syracuse.

Syracuse pulls off one of the season's biggest upsets if they _____.

Stop Wayne Gallman and capitalize on turnovers. Basically Syracuse has to follow the NC State blueprint but be more effective. The Clemson offsense is likely going to turn the ball over once or twice and maximizing points will be key. Couple that with stopping the Clemson running game and it will be a long day for Clemson with Syracuse having an excellent opportunity to win.

Prediction time: What happens and why?

I think Clemson wins this one comfortably, but I don't see a blowout. With the exception of BC and SC State Clemson hasn't really laid a whipping on a team and I don't see that continuing, y'all do have a functioning offense after all unlike your Northeast counterpart. I can see a good 14-17 point win here.

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Thanks again to Brian for taking the time out to answer these. And be sure to follow him on Twitter, and head on over to Shakin the Southland to read more about Clemson.