Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables believes there's going to be more down-to-the-wire games in college football.
The 21st-ranked Tigers have had their share the past two weeks.
Clemson has needed late stands to seal victories over Louisville and Boston College. Venables said those performances have boosted his players' beliefs that they can achieve success in any situation.
That was certainly evident against the Cardinals and Eagles.
Louisville drove to Clemson's 1 in the final seconds but failed to score in the Tigers 23-17 win. Clemson stopped Boston College's last drive at its 26 with four incompletions in a 17-13 victory.
The Tigers (5-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) try for a fifth consecutive victory against Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday night.
While Venables — along with Clemson fans — were biting their nails watching the end unfold the last two contests, the third year coordinator believes defenses will be forced into many more late, game-on-the-line situations as the sport evolves.
"Trust me, I love beating somebody by seven or eight touchdowns," Venables said.
He thinks such blowouts are fading in the Power Five conferences as all FBS schools push to improve.
"Everybody has good facilities and everybody is on TV," Venables said. "I think there are more good players on teams now more than ever."
Venables includes Syracuse in that mix. The Orangemen broke a four-game losing streak with a 30-7 victory at Wake Forest. Freshman quarterback AJ Long ran for a touchdown and threw for another in the Syracuse victory and will make his second career start at Death Valley.
"They are, by far, one of the best, if not the best, fronts in college football right now," Long said. "It's going to be a big challenge for us up front."
Clemson had five sacks and 14 tackles for losses in the win at Boston College.
Things to watch for when No. 21 Clemson plays Syracuse:
CRANKING THINGS UP: Clemson's offense has not been the juggernaut that rolled over opponents the past three seasons. The Tigers are averaging about 70 yards fewer a game in 2012 and 2013 when they were well over 500 yards a game. The offense has been hit hard by injuries, most notably to starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, leading rusher Adam Choice and top tight end Jordan Leggett. Watson and Leggett are expected back before season's end, but Choice will need surgery on an ACL and a long recovery.
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE: A slew of injuries has forced Syracuse to use six offensive line combinations, but despite all the juggling the Orange have allowed only five sacks, tied for fourth nationally and only one behind the top spot. Led by Vic Beasley, Clemson ranks fourth in the nation in sacks with 25, so Orange freshman quarterback AJ Long knows he'll likely be doing a lot of something he enjoys — throwing on the run.
HE SAID WHAT? Syracuse coach Scott Shafer took some heat last year in a 49-14 loss to Clemson when he was caught on camera using foul language in questioning Tigers coach Dabo Swinney looking to score a touchdown at the end of the first half with his team already up big. "People made a big deal of that because it got caught on TV," Swinney said this week. "A lot of people do that in the stands to me every week." Shafer apologized to Swinney soon after and the two joked about it at the ACC spring meetings.
DYE CAST: Clemson hopes to have highly regarded running back Tyshon Dye on the field against Syracuse. Dye was a centerpiece of the 2013 recruiting class but injuries kept him on the sidelines last season and through the first seven games this fall. Swinney said fans shouldn't expect too much from Dye, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound runner from Elberton, Georgia, who has not played since midway through his senior season in high school.
THIRD DOWN: Clemson's defense has owned third downs this season, leading the country in that category this week. The Tigers have held their past three opponents — North Carolina State, Louisville, Boston College — to a paltry 6 of 45 conversion attempts. Clemson won each of those games.