The Syracuse Orange face off against the Clemson Tigers Saturday, and boy, this is a tall task. Clemson’s last loss to an ACC school was at The
Carrier Dome to the Orange. So, while this is a huge test for Dino Babers’ squad, it’s not like they haven’t pulled this kind of upset before. How are they gonna do it? They’re going to need to improve in a few key areas.
How the hell does the offensive line hold?
Maryland was able to take advantage of Syracuse early last week, by getting an early lead and then blitzing a ton. Tommy DeVito was constantly moving, and it led to a lot of poor decisions and wide receivers clearly confused on how to handle a broken play. Clemson is much better than Maryland, and now knows that you can beat ‘Cuse by blitzing hard. Can the offense hold? I doubt it. But if they can for just a few seconds more...
Will DeVito build on “progress” versus Maryland.
Look, the redshirt sophomore wasn’t perfect. And 330 yards and 3 touchdowns aside, DeVito didn’t quite know how to handle the defensive pressure against the Terps, which will ramp up Saturday night vs. Clemson. However, it sure as heck looks like the play for the Tigers is to force DeVito to beat ‘Cuse. Can Tommy show a better understanding of check downs? Can he climb the ladder in the pocket to buy time for deeper throws? These are the challenges any young QB must learn, but DeVito desperately needs to improve if the Orange are to have a chance Saturday.
How will the secondary adjust?
We found out that the highly anticipated improvement in the secondary isn’t quite where the defense or fans thought it would be. Without front four pressure or linebacker support, the secondary got burned in straight-up coverage time and time again, only to compound these issues with poor tackling. Andre Cisco was then far too aggressive, flying around the field trying to make every play to overcompensate. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t looked immaculate this year, but Clemson will most likely attempt to replicate Maryland’s success with play action and deep middle routes. The Orange corners simply have to get better, or the gameplan will have to adjust.
Will we see younger linebackers get a shot?
Point blank, Andrew Armstrong and Lakiem Williams looked... terrible last week. While there was improvement with the linebackers over time last season, we’ve seen what happens when seniors improve but the depth behind them does not. Unlike last year, Syracuse has two stud prospects waiting in the wings with Mikel Jones and Lee Kpogba, who competed for starting roles in the offseason. Juan Wallace, a sophomore, has seen the field as well, and at this juncture, it may behoove the defense to give these three a look thinking long term. That said, if the linebacking play from the upperclassmen doesn’t improve, going younger probably doesn’t hurt the short term too much.
We only saw the Orange blown out once last season, in a “neutral” site game (that was more Notre Dame fans than ‘Cuse) where Eric Dungey was knocked out of action in the first quarter. This is the first time under Dino that a team they were expected (by some, anyway) to defeat beat them to a pulp, and thus, the first time for the very real lesson that college football is weird, and anything less than 100% usually ends poorly. The Orange need to come out focused, sharp, and above all else, they need to be able to adjust when things don’t go their way.