The three keys to No. 3 Clemson beating Syracuse in Saturday’s game at the Carrier Dome:
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
Not that an Adrian Peterson-type presence is necessary in the backfield when quarterback Tajh Boyd is back there making plays with his arm and his feet. But out of 177 rushing attempts on the year, Clemson has gone for 20-plus yards just three times. Boyd leads the team with 49 carries, and while he’s been sensational in short yardage, his long pickup is 13 yards. Roderick McDowell’s been tough between the tackles, but the Tigers could stand to be more explosive on the ground.
5, 6, PICK UP BLITZ
Clemson’s quick screens to the flat can combat pretty much any level of exotic blitz packages Syracuse throws at the Tigers. But it’s those intermediate and deep routes when Boyd must have time to read his progressions, or let Sammy Watkins go long — and Watkins is concerned about the time he’ll have. It’s a chess match; it’s on Chad Morris to call the right plays at the right moments, but above all else, the offensive line and pass protectors have to keep Boyd clean.
STILL GOT SWAGGER
There isn’t much to tell the defense about how to change. It’s been terrific on third down, it’s gotten into the backfield, it’s stood up to opposing wide receivers. Confidence is as high as it’s been, and Clemson’s got to remember that in a road environment. Watch for Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt and running back Jerome Smith to control the game on the ground.
Much has been made of the nuances of the Carrier Dome that make this a would-be trap game for the Tigers. Surely, it wouldn’t be wise for Clemson to take anybody lightly in its own place — ask Geno Smith (2011) and Teddy Bridgewater (2012) how that went on their trips to the Dome. However, a football team that uses a long road trip or the temperature or the hue of the visiting locker room or any other excuses is probably not a very good football team.
Clemson 31, Syracuse 21