Syracuse Football: Top keys for No. 14 Orange to win at No. 5 Clemson

Syracuse football (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Syracuse football (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

There are a lot of statistical similarities between Syracuse football and Clemson, and Saturday afternoon’s Atlantic Coast Conference clash in Death Valley should prove an exciting battle.

The No. 14 Orange (6-0) and the No. 5 Tigers (7-0) are the two remaining undefeated teams in the ACC, and they’re also the top-two squads in the league’s Atlantic division.

In recent seasons, the ‘Cuse has knocked off Clemson once and came close on two other occasions. Syracuse football players and coaches believe they can prevail on Saturday.

But the Tigers, in the present term, look every bit a serious contender to reach the College Football Playoff, and they’re also extremely difficult to conquer on their own turf (hence the large spread in favor of Clemson).

In this ACC showdown, the Orange faces a big-time challenge, but the ‘Cuse also boasts a legit opportunity to pull off a herculean upset and make its case for a top-10 national ranking.

Here’s what Syracuse football needs to do to beat highly rated Clemson.

Keep the home crowd quiet
Undoubtedly, Memorial Stadium will be rocking on Saturday, as it’s homecoming for Clemson. The Orange doesn’t want to give up a big early lead and enable the crowd to get going.

To that end as well, Syracuse football can ill-afford costly turnovers at the onset of this contest, or give up a huge scoring play to the Tigers’ offense.

Throughout the afternoon, the ‘Cuse will want to sustain long, methodical drives to keep the Clemson defense on the field, and the Tigers offense on the sidelines.

Minimize the penalties and turnovers
Penalties continue to be an issue for Syracuse football, and the Orange has to clean things up in that department versus Clemson.

By extension, the ‘Cuse doesn’t want to give the Tigers short fields and easy scoring opportunities by coughing up the football via fumbles or interceptions.

Additionally, the Orange’s Mob defense, which is only allowing 13.17 points per game, good for No. 6 nationwide, really must force some turnovers to provide quarterback Garrett Shrader, running back Sean Tucker and the rest of Syracuse football offense with their own respective short fields.

Punch the ball into the end zone
Whether it’s via the legs of Shrader and Tucker, or Shrader’s arm, the ‘Cuse cannot settle for field goals when it’s in the red zone. The team needs touchdowns to counter Clemson’s offense, which averages 38.6 points per affair.

Shrader has a solid group of passing targets, led by star wide receiver/tight end Oronde Gadsden II, and I’d love to see the Syracuse football quarterback make some deep throws down the field to keep the Tigers’ defense honest.

Have a balanced offensive attack
Shrader and his Clemson counterpart, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, pass for nearly the same amount of yards per encounter.

In the ACC, Tucker is No. 2 in rushing yards per meeting, while Tigers running back Will Shipley is No. 5 in the league.

Shrader and Uiagalelei, too, are in the top 20 of the ACC in rushing yards per game. The Orange and Clemson each have a solid offensive attack, but the ‘Cuse running game will be thoroughly tested.

On a national scale, the Tigers are No. 4 in rushing yards allowed per contest, at 82.7, while Syracuse football checks in at No. 11 around the country in this department.

The Orange offensive line has to carve out space for Tucker, and the ‘Cuse offense has to be balanced versus Clemson.

Conversely, Syracuse football linebackers and defensive backs will need to be sharp, as Uiagalelei is having an excellent 2022 campaign to date, throwing for 17 passing touchdowns against a mere two picks.

Interestingly enough, the ‘Cuse averages more yards per game on offense and gives up fewer yards per game on defense, although Clemson has probably dealt with a tougher overall schedule at this juncture in the 2022 season.

Avoid injuries, particularly on defense
The Orange has already lost five players to season-ending injuries, and they are fullback/tight end Chris Elmore, linebacker Stefon Thompson, wide receiver Isaiah Jones, defensive lineman Terry Lockett and defensive lineman Denis Jaquez Jr.

When the ‘Cuse knocked off top-15 N.C. State last Saturday on the Hill, several other players got banged up. The Syracuse football roster has to stay healthy in the Clemson encounter, as well as for the remainder of the 2022 stanza.

Special teams have to be special
Not to state the obvious, but I will anyway. The Orange kicking game has to be accurate. Syracuse football punts have to pin the Tigers deep in their own territory.

And the ‘Cuse could use some long kick-off and/or punt returns to give the squad’s offense short fields and easier scoring opportunities.

Enjoy the moment
Syracuse football is having its best campaign dating back to 1987. The Orange will be on a national broadcast (ABC) this Saturday in Death Valley.

The ‘Cuse having already clinched bowl eligibility is a remarkable achievement halfway through the current season, and Syracuse football should be proud of that.

However, the Orange should also set its sights on way more than simply making a bowl game. The ‘Cuse picked up a signature victory last weekend versus the Wolfpack, and now Syracuse football can further establish itself as a contender for an ACC championship.

In recent years, Clemson has been the premier team in the conference. But the Orange has also had success versus the Tigers.

All of the pressure in this ACC collision, from my perspective, is on Clemson to prevail at home. Syracuse football is playing with house money, so ‘Cuse players should compete with confidence while simultaneously enjoying the moment.

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