Clemson Football: Final thoughts on the game at Syracuse

Clemson's Dabo Swinney talks with reporter after practice at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida.
Clemson's Dabo Swinney talks with reporter after practice at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. /

Clemson Football will take on Syracuse today in the JMA Wireless Dome at noon, and I once again must start my final thoughts with the same thing I have for the last three weeks: I do not know what to expect.

When inconsistency is the biggest problem, it’s hard to know what to expect except inconsistency.

History would say that Clemson will play well for about 95% of the game. The question is if the other 5% will be bad enough to negate any positive gains made by the 95%.

That’s where they are right now. Can they play well enough to counter the mistakes that they will make?

They made so many against Duke that they had no chance. Since then, they have been more disciplined. Any mistakes made against Charleston Southern or Florida Atlantic were of no real consequence to the scoreboard by the end of the game.

Against an opponent like Florida State, the big mistake – the sack-fumble-six – was enough to allow the Seminoles to close the gap with the Tigers and take the game to overtime.

Against a top opponent, mistakes will cost Clemson the game. Against lower-tier competition, the mistakes might be disheartening, but they probably won’t make a difference in the final outcome.

So the question comes back to this week’s opponent. Just how good is Syracuse? That’s a tough question to answer in Week 5.

They have yet to play an ACC or common opponent with the Tigers. Their best win is on the road against Purdue, who is 1-3 with losses to Wisconsin and Fresno State at home and a win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

The one thing I feel sure of is that Garrett Schrader is a very good football quarterback, and I didn’t give him that much credit two years ago. I would have described him as a good player who was out of position. He’s proven me wrong.

What I am not sure about is the rest of the team. Both units rank well in yards and scoring.

  • Offensive yards per game: 451.3 (22nd in the FBS)
  • Scoring per game: 37.3 (tied for 16th in the FBS)
  • Defensive yards allowed per game: 330.3 (37th in the FBS)
  • Scoring allowed per game: 14.3 (tied for 14th in the FBS)

These are rankings from and only include games against FBS competition, which would be Purdue, Western Michigan, and Army for the Orange. Top 20 in both points categories and nearly Top 20 in offensive yards.

On the surface, the Orange look very good, until I consider who they have played so far. Then I back off that.

I don’t know what to expect from Clemson Football or from Syracuse today

Is Syracuse this good, or are we seeing inflated rankings because they have played unimpressive competition? Their overall strength of schedule is 119th per ESPN Analytics, and their strength of record is 23rd. There are four teams with a loss that have a higher strength of record right now. Only four of out of twenty-one undefeated Power 5 teams rank behind Syracuse’s SOR: Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and USC.

The truth is we just don’t know how Syracuse will play against an opponent like Clemson. One could get lulled into a false sense of security assuming their gaudy stats came at the expense of lower-ranked competition.

I like this Clemson team. I’m not as down on them as some fans are. I think at some point they are going to click and play very well, but when I take a step back from this game and consider all the factors:

  • Road environment for only the second time this season
  • Syracuse’s tendency to play Clemson close
  • Syracuse’s productivity so far this season, regardless of level of competition

I just don’t think this is the game that Clemson starts to roll, but I do think it is when they get back on the right side of the win column.

Hopefully, when we look back at this game when the season is over, we see it as the beginning of the crescendo.

Next. Clemson Tigers News: Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Andrew Tarbell and David Eziomume. dark