The Clemson Tigers will get a unique opportunity in the grand state of New York as they travel to the Carrier Dome to face off against the Syracuse Orange for the first time since 1996, when two All-Americans named Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison torched the Tigers defense in the Gator Bowl in 1996.
While the Orange don’t have the famed quarterback or receiver any longer, they are essentially dubbing this their “national championship” and are certain to have their stadium filled in the hopes of knocking off the No. 3 ranked team in the nation. With a very capable running back in Jerome Smith and an improving quarterback in Terrel Hunt, the Orange will look to come out of the gate early.
But Clemson will look to establish themselves in the same fashion that they have against teams like Syracuse. Here are some key Clemson players to look for as solid orange is pitted against solid orange:
While starting running back Roderick McDowell has done well thus far, he has been dealing with an ankle injury all week and just has a few scrapes and bruises. Clemson has employed more of a by-committee approach, and Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard could see more looks in the backfield if McDowell proves to be limited.
Both Brooks and Howard have proved themselves capable running backs out of the backfield, and Brooks has greatly improved as a running back. While he has only received 19 carries, he has rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown while averaging a modest 4.8 yards per carry. Howard has 20 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, with an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
Thus far, Travis Blanks and Robert Smith have been entrenched as the starting safeties all season long, but have not yet made those impact or game-changing plays. Tackling remains inconsistent with his group, and they have yet to be tested on too many deep passes. That could certainly change against Syracuse, who employ two deep threat receivers and who will certainly try to take advantage of a questionable Clemson secondary.
The play-action pass will be in the cards for the Orange, who have a workhorse at running back in Jerome Smith, and they are feeling as confident as ever that they can get the upset. The Tigers’ front seven has done its job well thus far. Now it’s time for the secondary to show up.
With disputes at left guard between co-starters David Beasley and Kalon Davis and at right tackle between Gifford Timothy and Shaq Anthony, the battle in the trenches can go a long way towards who gets the faster start in this game. Syracuse has been known for bringing plenty of pressure, and Clemson’s offensive line has struggled with the different kinds of pressure brought by defenses, especially stunts and linebacker blitzes.
This was an early problem for Clemson against NC State a few weeks ago, and they can’t let it become too much of a problem against Syracuse. Protecting quarterback Tajh Boyd and giving him time in the pocket is a must, and establishing a ground game is something that offensive coordinator Chad Morris has to establish and stay committed to.