Clemson, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - The 21st-ranked Clemson Tigers welcome the Syracuse Orange to Death Valley on Saturday for Homecoming at Memorial Stadium.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers remain within striking distance in the ACC's Atlantic Division at 6-1 overall and 4-1 in league play. Clemson's lone loss on the season was a 23-17 overtime setback at Florida State, but the Tigers have righted the ship with wins in four straight games since, including last weekend's 17-13 victory at Boston College.
Scott Shafer's Orange are sitting one game under .500 with a 3-4 overall record. Syracuse is just 1-2 in league play, but did secure that lone ACC win with last weekend's 30-7 rout of Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The win brought an end to a four-game slide for Syracuse, after opening the season with two consecutive wins.
This is just the third meeting between these two teams, with each program winning once. Clemson tied things up with last year's 49-14 rout at Syracuse.
Thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns, Syracuse was able to distance itself from the Demon Deacons and finally get back into the win column. Despite the offense generating just over 400 yards of offense per game, a great deal of that production was accomplished with quarterback Terrel Hunt under center. The veteran dual threat however, is done for the season due to injury, paving the way for youngsters A.J. Long and Mitch Kimble to see time under center, neither of which are as savvy as Hunt.
Regardless of who is throwing the football, the top target in the passing game remains Jarrod West, who leads the team in receptions (29) and receiving yards (421).
A potent ground game that relied on Hunt's running, now must lean more heavily on tailbacks Prince-Tyson Gulley (418 yards, 1 TD) and Adonis Ameen-Moore (276 yards, 1 TD). Junior Devante McFarlane is coming off a career-high 114 yards against Wake and adds yet another dimension the to Orange backfield.
Big plays like the ones against Wake Forest need to come with more frequency the rest of the way, with the offense at less than full strength. Syracuse is holding foes to a respectable 357.4 yards per game.
Linebacker Cameron Lynch headlines the defense for Syracuse, and is playing as well as any linebacker in the conference, with 53 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one safety to his credit. Help comes in the form of safety Durell Eskridge (35 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR) and Marquez Hodge (28 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks).
The Tigers are still getting it done at a high rate on offense this season, despite losing key pieces to the puzzle. The team is averaging 440.1 yards per game.
Like Syracuse, Clemson has also fallen victim to injuries on the offensive side of the football, as talented young gun slinger Deshaun Watson is out indefinitely with a hand injury, while leading tailback Adam Choice (218 yards, 1 TD) was recently lost for the season with a knee injury.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris specifically addressed the backfield woes this week.
"It's been really unfortunate for our backfield, losing Zac (Brooks) and Adam for the season," Morris said. "We've had some frustration. But hey, that's football. You've got to go play."
The good news for Clemson is that the team has a veteran to call on at quarterback with senior Cole Stoudt stepping in. Stoudt has started four games this season and has completed almost 62 percent of his passes, for 934 yards and one TD.
Receiving depth comes in the form of freshman Artavis Scott (38 rec, 443 yds, 3 TDs) and sophomore Mike Williams (30 rec, 671 yds, 4 TDs).
There aren't many defenses in the nation as talent-rich as Clemson is. The Tigers have playmakers at every level, resulting in impressive numbers across the board. The front seven is particularly stout, with a devastating pass rush that has amassed 267 sacks thus far.
All-American Vic Beasley is once again making plays upfield. Of his 18 total tackles, 10.5 have come behind the line of scrimmage, including eight sacks. Linebacker Stephone Anthony (team-high 52 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (35 tackles) and safety Jayron Kearse (43 tackles) have to be accounted for as well.