The ACC is officially here for Syracuse as the Orange welcome the third ranked Clemson Tigers to the Dome on Saturday. Clemson features one of the best offenses in the country and an underrated defense with speed.
Clemson has a multiple system that utilizes elements of the spread and pro-style schemes. They line up in the shotgun frequently, and utilize the athleticism of their skill position players. The Tigers utilize multiple formations with different personnel groupings to create mismatches all over the field.
Simply put, Tajh Boyd is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He has a rocket arm and has drastically improved his accuracy over the years. Boyd can make every throw on the field from the seam to the post to the corner to the out. He is as good a passer as there is in college football.
On top of that, Boyd is an elite athlete. He can hurt his opposition with his feet both moving around inside the pocket and scrambling for a first down. Boyd has also improved his accuracy while throwing on the run.
If there is a weakness in Boyd's game, and it is nitpicking at its finest, it is struggling to be consistent with decision making. In games where the Clemson offense has struggled, Boyd has made questionable decisions that have haulted the offense or turned the ball over. However, in 2013, Boyd has yet to throw an interception.
Is there a better receiver in the country than Sammy Watkins? He is certainly in the discussion for the nation's best. He has size, speed, athleticism and unbelievable hands. Watkins is every big an elite receiver, and will be the best the Orange face all season. Watkins and Boyd form arguably the best quarterback/wide receiver combo out there.
The rest of the wide receiver group is supremely talented as well. Martavis Bryant is a force at 6-foot-5 and he has above average speed as well. He is a mismatch because of his size, but his body control and ball skills make him even more dangerous. Adam Humphries plays in the slot for the Tigers and is a Wes Welker type of player. He runs great routes and has solid hands. Freshmen Mike Williams, T.J. Green and Germone Hopper rotate in from time to time as well.
At running back, Clemson uses a few players to pace their ground attack. Roderick McDowell is the primary ball carrier and is a scat back type who runs with great quickness. He moves in and out of hits cuts very well and is dangerous between the tackles as well as outside. He gets involved in the passing game as well. McDowell is a threat in the open field and has enough wiggle to make people miss.
Also rotating in are sophomore Zac Brooks and junior D.J. Howard. Both have a bit more size than McDowell and have more upright running styles. Each of the backs have excellent speed and can take it to the house on any play. Brooks and Howard are also weapons out of the backfield in the passing game.
At tight end, Stanton Seckinger is the starter with Darrell Smith and Sam Cooper rotating in. Neither have been heavily involved in the passing game to date, but provide big frames that can make plays if called upon. Seckinger and Cooper are very good run blockers with the athleticism to get to the second level.
In the Trenches
Clemson has a solid ten man rotation along the offensive line with each player seeing the field at different times. At tackle, Brandon Thomas starts on the left side. He is the best lineman on the Tigers roster. He is big, strong and plays with a mean streak. At right tackle, Shaq Anthony and Gifford Timothy split time. Timothy has more size, but Anthony moves a bit better. The tackles have struggled at times with the speed rush and can be exploited via the blitz.
On the inside, Tyler Shatley is the guard on the right side. The fifth year senior is a strong road grading lineman who is also solid in pass protection. He is also athletic enough to pull and get out in front on screens. Reid Webster backs him up and rotates in at times.
Center Ryan Norton is the smallest of the lineman but is strong and smart. He makes all the protection calls up front. Overall it is a solid group but has been prone to giving up pressure and sacks so far in 2013.
Clemson runs a traditional 4-3 defense. They blitz at times, but rely on their front four to generate pressure. They play a lot of man in the defensive backfield and use their speedy linebackers to attack the run. The Tigers can mix things up at times, but primarily utilize the straight 4-3 scheme.
In the Trenches
Clemson has one of the best defensive ends in the country in Vic Beasley. He is a force off the edge with a combination of speed, explosion and pass rushing moves. He already has six sacks on the young season. Underrated is Beasley's play against the run. He is outstanding at setting the edge on outside runs while being able to get into the backfield at times as well.
Corey Crawford starts opposite Beasley along the defensive line. He is not the pass rusher that Beasley is, but few are. Crawford is better against the run and splits time with Tavaris Barnes who has a similar skill set to Crawford.
Inside, Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams are the starters. Both are big, space eating tackles who are solid against the run. Josh Watson and D.J. Reader both rotate in to keep the group fresh. They are also big, strong players who can get some push against the pass. Each player is quick out of their stance and will pose a big challenge for the Syracuse interior linemen.
The Back Seven
The linebackers are have everything you look for at the collegiate level. Supreme athletes that have good size and great speed. They are solid when asked to pass rush as well as stopping the opposing ground attack. Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey start on the outside. Christian takes on the task of covering the tight end and does so very well.
Stephone Anthony starts in the middle and can do a bit of everything. He is strong against the run but can also run with running backs out of the backfield. All three are solid tacklers who utilize strong technique with above average strength.
The secondary is considered the weakness of the defense, if it has one. They are prone to giving up the big play at times. Corners Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson will start, but backups Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins will get plenty of playing time as well. They tend to bite on playaction or double moves, which can leave receivers open down the field.
Safeties Travis Blanks and Robert Smith stay over the top a majority of the time as they don't get involved in the running back by dropping into the box. Expect to see a lot of cover two from the secondary as they generally don't play a lot of zone.
Kicker Chandler Catanzaro has a strong leg and is extremely accurate inside 45-yards. On kickoffs, he primarily kicks it out of the endzone. As a result, the kick-coverage unit doesn't get a lot of action. When they have had a chance to cover a return, they have faired well so far in 2013.
Punter Brandley Pinion is a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder with a strong leg. He is averaging over 42-yards per punt so far this season, and has solid accuracy.
Slot receiver Adam Humphries returns punts for the Tigers while backup receiver Germone Hopper and starting running back Roderick McDowell are the kick returners. None are big time home run threats as returners, though McDowell is the biggest threat because of his abilities in the open field.
Clemson is ranked third in the country for a reason. They have talent all over the field with speed that Syracuse just can't match up against on paper. A raucous crowd in the Dome on Saturday can really help the Orange even out the talent disparity. If Syracuse is going to pull the upset, it starts with controlling the line of scrimmage. The Orange must win the turnover battle as well.
Still, it should be a great atmosphere in the Carrier Dome as Syracuse plays their first ACC conference game.
CUTigers.com's Hale McGranahan contributed to this report.