Fans will be drinking plenty of orange Kool-Aid as the No. 3 Clemson Tigers take their talents to the Carrier Dome against the Syracuse Orange. But the biggest question on Saturday will be which one makes the best Kool-Aid?
For the Tigers, everyone is well aware of quarterback Tajh Boyd‘s talent in one of college football’s best offenses, headed by the mastermind known as Chad Morris. Thus far, Boyd has thrown for 994 yards and accounted for 13 touchdowns with zero interceptions. In the Tigers’ latest victory against Wake Forest, Boyd tied former NC State standout Philip Rivers by accounting for over 100 touchdowns in his career, and needs only 12 more touchdowns to become the all-time leader in the ACC.
The running game is spearheaded by senior running back Roderick McDowell, who leads the team in rushing with 253 rushing yards while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Reserve backs Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard are good receiving threats out of the backfield, while Boyd is as much a threat to run the ball as he is to sit in the pocket.
In the passing game, junior Sammy Watkins is the most explosive threat in a deep receiving corps, leading all Clemson receivers with 355 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The speedster can take a top off the defense and score from virtually anywhere on the field. The Tigers don’t necessarily have that clear-cut No. 2 guy with the loss of Charone Peake, but very viable options remain with Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries, Germone Hopper and true freshman Mike Williams. While Bryant has had his issues with consistency on and off the field, he is second in receiving behind Watkins with 189 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Humphries is a valuable possession receiver who does the majority of his damage close to the line of scrimmage in between the 20s.
The Tigers have proved they are more than their offense, as linebacker Stephone Anthony leads the team with 44 tackles, along with 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery. Defensive end Vic Beasley is the Tigers’ main threat at defensive end, tying for second in the nation with six sacks. Overall, Clemson’s defense has held its first four opponents to 17.3 points per game.
On the other side of the orange line, Syracuse was a little slower out of the gate under first-year head coach Scott Shafer, who was promoted following the departure of Doug Marrone to the Buffalo Bills. After starting the season 0-2 with Drew Allen as the starter at quarterback, the change to Terrel Hunt has paid dividends for Syracuse, who have since won two-straight games and are coming off a bye week. Hunt has completed nearly 78 percent of his passes, throwing for 468 yards with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions while leading the Orange to an impressive 46 percent third-down conversion rate.
Jerome Smith is the main cog of the Orange’s running game, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and scoring six rushing touchdowns. At receiver, Ashton Broyld leads the Syracuse passing game with 19 receptions, while fellow receivers Chris Clark (202 yards, three touchdowns) and Jarrod West (211 yards, TD) operate as the main downfield threats. Syracuse will be sure to test Clemson’s questionable secondary, especially in the play-action passing game should Smith prove able to spark their running game.
While Syracuse’s defense has performed well, they rank among the bottom of the ACC in most defensive categories, something that the Tigers will be sure to take advantage of. Linebacker Cameron Lynch and defensive lineman Jay Bromley are the main threats on the Orange’s front seven, and they will be sure to pressure Boyd early and often.
This is a kind of game that could be a trap game, though, for Clemson, every game might as well fit that definition now. But if there’s one thing Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been able to do, it’s keep his team focused on their objective. He proved that in 2012, and he hasn’t given any reasons in 2013 for us to think otherwise.