The Syracuse Orange will play one of their biggest home games ever Saturday when not only do they open up ACC play for the first time ever but host the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, the Clemson Tigers.
Since this ACC/big-time football thing is something that comes around once in awhile, we figured we'd reach out to our brand new friends! Shakin The Southland and do a pre-game Q&A. They answered our questions below, while I answered theirs here.
1. You fellas have a guy named Tajh Boyd, who has played quarterback there for what seems forever and is pretty good. But, lets be real for a second, how good is Boyd? Is he Robert Griffin III-complete package good? Or, does he have some flaws that Syracuse's coaching staff can exploit?
Shakin The Southland: Tajh is a phenomenal player and will go down as the best QB in Clemson history. The numbers that he's put over the past 2 and a half seasons are just incredible. He's a great pocket passer who is more than capable of running when given the opportunity. He throws a great deep ball and has been extremely accurate on those throws in the past (minus the NC State game). Clemson utilizes him a good amount in the run game. Some of those carries come off of scrambles/sacks, with the others coming off the zone read and QB powers. The QB power is Clemson's go to play on 3rd or 4th and short and I can't think of a time when it's been stopped. Not by FSU, LSU, USC, or Georgia.
That's not to say he is without his faults. In the past he has thrown into tight windows or made incorrect reads, which have resulted in more INTs than we'd care for. He's done a good job so far this year of taking care of the football (knock on wood). He also has a tendency to get rattled by pressure. Early pressure can often times lead to him feeling pressure throughout the game even when it's not there. It causes him to either hesitate on his throws or leave the pocket when he doesn't need to. But, if he gets time in the pocket he's going to carve up a defense.
2. So far this season things have worked out well for the Tigers. As you head into the meat of ACC play -- you play at SU, host FSU and at Maryland in the next four games -- is the fan base gaining more confident about this year's team or is this what you expected from your squad?
STS: So far, it's what we've expected. I had the Georgia game as a 60/40 game in Clemson's favor. Other than that, I expected to cruise fairly easily through SC State, NC State, and Wake Forest. The Syracuse game was looking a whole lot easier with Drew Allen as the QB, so this game has gotten a bit tougher. FSU and South Carolina are obviously going to be extremely tough. We're also not overlooking Maryland, who has come out of the gate strong and poses a tough road challenge. You hope that players and coaches take games one at a time, but we as fans are looking ahead in the schedule and circling the FSU game. That game should be a real indicator of how good this team really is.
3. From TNIAAM's comments section, it seems like Clemson fans want to get to the Carrier Dome as fast as possible, earn a win as fast as possible and get out of town as fast as possible. Does this have anything to do with Jim Boeheim's comments and wanting nothing to do with the city of Syracuse in October or are you guys actually worried about playing at the Carrier Dome?
STS: That's Clemson fans' PTSD that you are seeing there. We've been so traumatized over the years with inexplicable losses that any time we head away from home we have to bring an extra pair of underwear because we're afraid we might shat the bed.
There are two things that really scare me about this trip to the Carrier Dome: 1) Syracuse's recent history of knocking off highly ranked opponents at home, and, 2) Clemson's poor performance on the road at NC State. On paper, this game looks like one that the Tigers should run away with by the end. If the players come ready to play and execute, Clemson's talent should overwhelm. But this game is Syracuse's Super Bowl, one in which they have a chance to knock off a top 5 team. They are going to come out fired up and ready to play. If Clemson comes out unprepared and can't match that emotion, anything can happen. And when the goal is to get to the national championship game, you can't afford a slip up along the way.
4. On Sat., Aug. 31, I sat in a bar and watched Clemson edge out a solid victory against Georgia with a Clemson University alum. I didn't know the guy well, but man was he nit-picky about the football team that was playing well against one of the best teams in the nation. Are all Clemson football fans like this or was this guy an exception to the rest of you who seem pretty level headed?
Were you watching the game with DrB or FigureFour (STS's founders)? Those guys are as nit-picky as they come and that's what makes STS so great.
Overall, there is a mixed batch. There is a large group of Clemson fans (found at other Clemson sites), that wear orange colored shades and praise every player, coach, and decision. Then you have the more knowledgeable fans that come over to Shakin' the Southland looking for rational analysis and rational discussions where they can criticize plays and decisions even in victory. If you believe in Nick Saban's philosophy, which I do, football is a process driven game and not results driven. Therefore, you can always find ways to improve even when you ARE playing your best.
5. Most of the talk is about Clemon's offense with Boyd, Sammy Watkins and crew. But, we all know to be a National Title contender and team needs to be able to stop opponents. How good is this Tigers defense?
STS: The defense is much better than the defense from the past 2 years. How good that is really remains to be seen? Their performance against Georgia is beginning to look better and better each week. They played well against SC State and NC State, and played outstanding against Wake Forest. Those 3 teams are not exactly the Denver Broncos circa 2013. However, the past couple of years those offenses would've made Clemson's defense look silly, so there is obvious improvement.
The Clemson DL has been very stout. The DT's don't allow much up the middle in the run game and get good push up the middle in their pass rush. The DE's have also been very good, led by Vic Beasley, who is a terror coming off the edge.
The linebackers and secondary have been a weakness in the past, but both are playing much better than they have in the past. The linebackers had been especially disappointing considering the number of 4/5 star recruits we had gotten at that position in recent years. It seems that group is finally starting to round out. I'm still nervous about the secondary though. Although the DB's have played better this year, it's the same group that was torched repeatedly the last 2 years. And the play at safety has been subpar this year, mainly in run support and limiting yards after the catch.
This is one of the reason I'm very anxious to for this game on Saturday. Hunt is the type of QB that has given Clemson fits the past couple of years. He and the Syracuse offense will be a very good baramoter of just how far this defense has come.
6. Since we're new to the ACC, what are some of the descriptors of a Clemson fan? What do you like?; What don't you like?; What don't you really, really like? Any chance of a possible rivalry growing between us because we just want to be hated by somebody in the Carolinas.
This is a great question.
Things we like: Clemson football, we're obsessed with it. College football in general, especially if the game involves teams from the south east. Tailgating. Talking about football all offseason. Hyping up recruits that have yet to play a down of college football. Beating top tier SEC teams. I'm a big basketball guy, but a large majority of the fanbase is down on the Tigers after the past couple of years.
Things we don't like: The ACC playing favorites with the North Carolina schools. Playing in front of half empty 40,000 seat stadiums. Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson. People chanting "ACC" after Clemson beats LSU/Georgia (that's a Clemson victory, not a conference victory).
Things we really don't like: South Carolina. Steve Spurrier and his loud mouth antics. Georgia. Florida State is climbing this "really don't like" list fast.
Depending on how Saturday goes, we may be able to find a spot for you guys in the "things we really don't like" category.
7. Prediction time. First, I'll ask about the point spread, which opened at 14 and dropped to 12, will the Tigers be able to cover? Second, what's your overall prediction for this game?
STS: I think a 13-14 point spread sounds about right. It's similar to the spread we had for the NC State game and NC State was able to squeak out a backdoor cover with a late, 23 play drive TD.
I'm hoping Clemson received their wake up call after NC State kept it close for longer than the should've. I think the offense will come out cripser and will have an opportunity to put up some point against what I've been told is a pourous Syracuse secondary. If Syracuse blitzes as much as they normally do, big plays will be available for Watkins and Bryant.
On the flip side, I think Syracuse will do some damage offensively. I'm still not convinced Clemson can rush the passer with discipline, and expect to see Hunt scrambling to keep drives alive.
In the end, I think Clemson's offense proves to be too much. 41-24. Go Tigers!