Syracuse quarterback/receivers/tight ends vs. Clemson secondary
Syracuse has a significant disadvantage coming into this one. The Tigers secondary features several big time athletes with strong cover skills. They play a physical man-to-man style that should really test the Orange receivers. When Clemson mixes up their coverages, they excel at disguising zone looks.
Syracuse also has a true freshman quarterback in A.J. Long, who will be facing his toughest test of the season. Garry Peters and Jayron Kearse are two players to watch in the Clemson secondary. They may have opportunities to make plays against the Syracuse passing attack.
Injured receivers Brisly Estime is expected back according to his Instagram account, and Ashton Broyld may return as well. That will bolster a receiving corps that has seen freshman Steve Ishmael step up over the last two weeks. Look for Syracuse to use slants, bubbles, swing passes and other quick hitting patterns to get the ball out of Long’s hands.
Clemson’s group has been more consistent and productive this season. Combine that with their athletes in the secondary and the Tigers have a clear advantage in this matchup.
Syracuse running backs vs. Clemson linebackers
As good as the Clemson secondary has been this seven, their front seven is in the discussion for the best in the nation. They are superb at shutting down opposing rushing attacks, giving up only 3.04 yards per attempt and ranking 14th in the nation in yards per game allowed.
The Tiger linebackers are led by the man in the middle, Stephone Anthony. He is a big, physical, downhill linebacker who sheds blocks well and fills the gaps when the linemen eat up blockers. Anthony is also a tackling machine, leading the Tigers in that category. He is flanked by Tony Steward and B.J. Goodson, a pair of fast linebackers who are skilled at getting into the backfield.
When the Syracuse offense is humming, it is led by a running game that ranks 45th in the nation with 190-yards per game. Prince-Tyson Gulley has been the lead back since Tim Lester took over as offensive coordinator. True freshman Ervin Philips has been used on jet sweeps and screens, while sophomore DeVante McFarlane broke out last week. Adonis Ameen-Moore is the power back. His touches fluctuate from week to week.
This matchup will be intriguing to watch as it could be Syracuse’s best chance to move the ball consistently. But given Clemson’s athletes at the linebacker position and stoutness against the run this year, the Tigers have the edge here.
Syracuse offensive line vs. Clemson defensive line
If Syracuse has any hopes of an upset, they have to be at least respectable in this battle. Syracuse left tackle Sean Hickey, a legitimate NFL prospect, called the Clemson defensive line the best he has faced during his college career. Head coach Scott Shafer echoed similar sentiments saying the Orange just hope to not get their quarterback killed.
Those accolades are warranted, especially when talking about defensive end Vic Beasley. He is arguably the nation’s best pass rusher with his burst out of his stance, elite speed off the edge and underrated power. But the Clemson front is far more than a one-man band.
Syracuse is still battling injuries up front, which does not bode well for their efforts. Starting center John Miller missed last week’s game. Right tackle Ivan Foy has been out for weeks. Omari Palmer has done a solid job in relief of Foy, but struggled last week in pass protection.
Clemson has a big edge here on paper, even with the Syracuse offensive line performing better than people think so far this season.
Clemson quarterback/receivers/tight ends vs. Syracuse secondary
If Deshaun Watson was under center for Clemson, this battle would not be close. But with Cole Stoudt, it gives Syracuse a chance to hold their own. The offense has struggled to move the ball with Stoudt running the show. Despite that, the Clemson receivers are very talented.
Mike Willims is a big play threat with elite size and speed. He poses a huge problem to a vulnerable Orange secondary. Artavis Scott leads the team in receptions and has been very reliable as a possession receiver. Slot receiver Adam Humphries torched Syracuse last season and is better this season.
Syracuse corner Julian Whigham has been prone to giving up the big play but has the best physical tools to matchup with Williams. This should be a big advantage for Clemson.
Safety Durell Eskridge is another NFL prospect and has playmaking ability. He has been inconsistent this season, however.
Clemson running backs vs. Syracuse linebackers
Clemson has really struggled to get the ground game going this season. With leading rusher Adam Choice out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, the Tigers will use a ground attack by committee. Wayne Gallman is likely to get the start but will split time with C.J. Davidson.
Both are solid backs but neither is spectacular. The Orange have been very good against the run this season, ranking 32nd in the country in yards given up per game. Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis, the two outside backers, are at their best shooting through the gaps to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Give Syracuse the edge here and expect Clemson to utilize the pass more often in this matchup.
Clemson offensive line vs. Syracuse defensive line
The Clemson offensive line is good, but not great. They protect the quarterback well but have struggled to open consistent running lanes. If the Tigers were going to rely on a ground attack in this one, it would give Syracuse a significant advantage. But the Tigers are likely to utilize an aerial attack on Saturday, giving Clemson the edge in this battle.
The Syracuse defensive line has struggled to get a consistent pass rush on opposing quarterbacks. Most of their pressure comes as a result of their various blitz packages. Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh are better run defenders than pure pass rushers, though Robinson has been better than anticipated thus far.
Syracuse special teams vs. Clemson special teams
Both squads have talented punters who are weapons in the field position battle. Both have found consistency in the kicking game. It took Syracuse a bit longer, but walkon freshman Cole Murphy has hit nine of ten since taking over for Ryan Norton.
The kick return game for each team has been below average. Each has solid coverage units. But where Clemson separates from Syracuse in this one is their punt returner. Adam Humphries is a threat for the big play and will test the Orange punt coverage team.
Syracuse may have Brisly Estime back to give them a threat, but even when healthy he has not shown much this season.