We’re past the halfway point of our Syracuse Orange football schedule preview. Coming off a game where they host NC State, SU will hit the road for the first time in over a month. They’ll do so against this next ACC opponent, who present possibly the toughest matchup on the entire ‘Cuse calendar.
School: Clemson University
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History vs. Syracuse: The Tigers have won eight of their ten matchups against the Orange. The first meeting between the two schools was the 1996 Gator Bowl, where SU stunned No. 23 Clemson 41-0. The other Orange upset came in 2017, when Eric Dungey had 339 all-purpose yards and 3 TDs in a back-and-forth battle. The Dome field was swarmed by home fans after ‘Cuse held on for the 27-24 win over the No. 2 Tigers. Last year’s game was the first time Clemson was not ranked when facing Syracuse and only the third time that they were not ranked in the Top 3.
Coach: Dabo Swinney, 15th season. Dabo is well known as the man to elevate the Clemson football program into consistent National Championship contenders. After walking on at Alabama in 1989, Swinney earned a scholarship as a wide receiver and was part of the undefeated 1992 National Champion Crimson Tide. He spent his first eight coaching years there, working with both wide receivers and tight ends during that stretch. After a two-year hiatus, he took the job of WRs coach at Clemson. In the middle of his sixth year at the position, Tommy Bowden resigned as head coach after a disappointing 3-3 start. Dabo took the reins and hasn’t looked back since, winning seven ACC titles, making the College Football Playoffs six years in a row (2015-2020), and earning two National Championships.
2021 Record: (10-3) (6-2)
Recapping Last Season:
The Tigers got off to an uncharacteristically slow start in 2021. They were bested by Georgia in a 10-3 defensive showdown to start the year. After crushing an FCS squad, Clemson barely beat Georgia Tech. That warning sign was proven true the next week when NC State took them down 27-21 in 2OT. Clemson fell from the rankings but managed narrow victories against Boston College and Syracuse. Then No. 23 Pitt got the better of them and left fans wondering what happened to the offense of years past. This third loss finally snapped the Tigers out of their funk, as they proceeded to win five straight, including one over No. 10 Wake Forest. In the Cheez-It Bowl, Clemson beat Iowa State 20-13 to end the campaign at No. 14.
The offensive struggles fall mostly on the shoulders of quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. The sophomore completed only 55% of his passes and threw a meager nine touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. He had big shoes to fill after Trevor Lawrence went number 1 overall in the NFL Draft, and whether or not that pressure will continue to affect him remains to be seen. Will Shipley and Kobe Pace led a respectable rushing attack, combining for 1,380 yards and 17 TDs. Justyn Ross regressed after missing all of 2020 due to injury, but he still managed to lead the team with 514 receiving yards.
While the offense wasn’t up to par, the defense did its job and then some. This Tigers unit surrendered just 15 points per game, 2nd-best in the nation behind Georgia. They also allowed the 9th-fewest average yards. DE Myles Murphy and LB Trenton Simpson combined for 13 sacks as part of a very well-rounded front seven. Corners Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth Jr. protected the outside with a total of 14 passes defended and five interceptions. B.T. Potter was 21/26 on his FG kicks.
2022 Season Outlook:
Clemson has non-conference games versus Furman, Louisiana Tech, and South Carolina, as well as a trip to Notre Dame. Their ACC matchups are the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, home games against NC State, Syracuse, Louisville, and Miami, and road games at Wake Forest, Boston College, and Florida State. They’re ranked No. 4 in the preseason coaches’ poll.
Uiagalelei will be on a very short leash now that Clemson added Cade Klubnik, the number 1 QB of the Class of 2021. The RB tandem is unchanged outside of some new freshmen. Ross is gone, leaving Joseph Ngata, Beaux Collins, and others to vie for top receiver rights. The O-Line remains in good shape after only letting up 21 sacks last year.
Murphy and Simpson return, but the defense lost a lot of starters to the NFL. Leading tacklers James Skalski and Baylon Spector, as well as the starting CBs, departed for the big time. There’s still plenty of heavy hitters up front to keep opposing offenses contained. The same goes for the secondary, which has the safety duo of Andrew Mukuba and Clemson’s own Tyler Venables to stop the air attack.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 22
Location: Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina
Odds of Orange Victory: 4.4%
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
We as Syracuse fans like to remember the massive upset over Clemson more than the expected losses. Facing the largest hostile crowd of the season, right in the worst part of the toughest schedule in years, the Orange will need a miracle to pull this one off. Meanwhile, Swinney will do whatever it takes to get his Tigers back to the playoffs and prove that last year was an aberration. With another playoff hopeful on their plate next week, don’t be surprised if SU opts to take out starters and regroup if they fall too far behind.