Maybe Syracuse will need a little more than just a “slingshot and a rock” when they take on Clemson after all – at least that’s the sentiment Syracuse coach Dino Babers expressed while speaking with the media on the ACC coaches teleconference on Wednesday.
Syracuse (4-4, 2-0 in ACC) will face No. 2 Clemson (8-0, 5-0 in ACC) this Saturday in Death Valley. Syracuse will be a heavy underdog after Clemson opened as a 28.5-point favorite over the Orange.
In his opening remarks, Babers praised the Tigers for being a complete team and one that dominates in all aspects of the game: offense, defense and special teams.
“I just don’t see any weaknesses,” Babers said.
Babers may be right in that assessment.
If Clemson does have any weaknesses, they’re hard to spot. The undefeated Tigers rank 26th in points per game, with 36.3, 11th in points per game allowed, with 17.6, and boast a kicker in Greg Huegel who has made 11 of 13 field goals and 32 of 33 extra points.
The biggest knock against Clemson this year hasn’t been a specific statistic, but rather their failure when it comes to the infamous “eye test.” The Tigers have only played two ranked teams so far this season, Louisville and Florida State. In both of those games, Clemson was forced to overcome a deficit and take the lead in the final minutes.
In fact, outside of blowout wins over South Carolina State and Boston College, Clemson has failed to look like the dominating Tigers team experts expected to see, with five of their eight wins being decided by one score (seven points or less).
Regardless, Clemson is one of just five undefeated teams remaining and is led by Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson.
While Syracuse has experience this season in pulling off improbable upsets – see the Orange’s upset win over then-No.17 Virginia Tech – Babers made it a point to mention beating the Hokies was one thing, trying to take down Clemson is a whole other animal.
“I think Virginia Tech and Clemson are entirely two different football teams,” Babers said. “When you look at Clemson, there are really no weaknesses. You may be talking about the best college football team in America, regardless of how the vote came out.”
One of the many challenges Syracuse will face when they travel down to Death Valley is the loud and unfavorable environment they’ll have to play in.
While Babers said he believes Syracuse played in a similar hostile environment against Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium, he wasn’t impressed with his team’s performance and ability to combat the additional circumstances.
“I didn’t think we handled it very well,” Babers said. “The noise the distractions…I thought that we didn’t handle it well and hopefully we’ll handle it a lot better in Death Valley.”
Potential Positions Switch?
This past week, Syracuse received two more commitments from recruits, bringing the Orange’s Class of 2017 recruiting total to 20. Both of those recruits, however, were big power running backs that traditionally Babers favors for his offensive system. In total, Syracuse is set to have three freshman running backs join the program.
While the influx of new talent is nice, it also creates a logjam at the position, as Syracuse already has starter Dontae Strickland, sophomore Jordan Fredericks and freshman Moe Neal. One solution would be to have one or two players from the current group of running backs switch to wide receiver, similar to what Erv Phillips did – a theory that was supposedly suggested to Class of 2017 commit Markenzy Pierre.
Babers, however, denied those reports.
“The last thing we would do is to tell someone not in our program things that would be going on inside our program,” Babers said. “We’re a family. We’re Ohana, La Familia. And unless you’re inside, you really don’t know what’s going on.”