Final thoughts, prediction as Clemson travels to Syracuse in search of first road win

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Clemson has defended Memorial Stadium this season and in recent years. The Tigers hold a 31-game winning streak at home, which is the longest active streak in the nation.

Playing on the road in 2021, however, hasn’t been successful from a winning standpoint. Both of the Tigers’ losses have come away from Death Valley, with one being at the neutral-site game against now top-ranked Georgia in Charlotte and the other in Raleigh at No. 22 N.C. State.

Coming out of its bye week, Clemson will have back-to-back chances to earn a road victory, starting with Syracuse at 7 p.m. Friday (ESPN) at the Carrier Dome.

“Well, if you want to have any chance at all of staying in the hunt, we’ve got to take care of business,” Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said. “If we were 5-0, wouldn’t this be the biggest game of the year? Then we need to win it, right? Nothing’s changed.”

There were some changes this week, though.

Tigers hoping to get well soon

Playing on Friday caused Clemson to bump its usual game week schedule up a day. Having the bye week right before helped, in some ways, to get needed rest, especially considering all the injuries the team has experienced.

Aside from those with season-ending injuries, the Tigers expect to have just about everyone back, including offensive lineman Will Putnam, cornerback Mario Goodrich and defensive tackle Demonte Capehart, who was back in practice this week. Fellow corner Fred Davis (ankle) will still be out, though Swinney said he’s close to returning, and defensive tackle Tyler Davis (bicep surgery) is still out. Running back Will Shipley (knee) is off crutches and making progress, but not ready yet.

“It’d be a chance in his mind, I guarantee you,” Swinney said when asked if there’s a chance Shipley will play this week. “He and Tyler Davis, I’d put them both in that same category. Some guys just respond differently. They’re both grinders. They’re both just absolute grinders when they do anything. They attack everything, so if it’s rehab, that’s what their focus is. That’s what they attack. … Really excited about (Shipley’s) progress. The same thing with Tyler Davis.”

Having players trickle back into the lineup will come in handy down the stretch.

While Clemson is 0-2 away from home, the Tigers have historically done well at Syracuse. They’ve only lost once — a 27-24 defeat in 2017 — in four games played there. That year, Clemson made the national championship before falling to Alabama and finishing 12-2.

Things are different this year, though. Clemson is 3-2 after five games for the first time since 2014. Once October hit that season, the Tigers rattled off five straight wins and ended the year 10-3.

“I’ve got a thing on my desk (that says) there’s nothing less important than the score at halftime. I’ve had that for 30-plus years because there’s never been a truer statement,” Swinney said. “I’ve been 2-3 and played for the ACC championship. Been 1-2 and beat Oklahoma in the bowl 40-6. I’ve been 8-0 and we didn’t finish. We went 2-4 down the stretch and everybody forgot about the 8-0. This team will be judged by how we finish.

“Whether we were 5-0 or sitting here, 3-2 with two heartbreakers, we need to win the game. Ain’t nothing changed. Wouldn’t be any different, and we need to win on the road. We haven’t done that. Been in position, but we’ve got to finish.”

Preparing for Syracuse strengths

The challenge will be combating Syracuse’s run game. Running back Sean Tucker has amassed 791 rushing yards, second-best in the country, to go along with nine touchdowns and 204 receiving yards — to account for 40.3% of the team’s total offense. Quarterback Garrett Shrader is responsible for 412 rushing yards, 627 passing yards and a total of 12 of the team’s 24 touchdowns.

More so than playing on the road, which will be an “Orange Out” game for Syracuse, trying to stop Shrader and Tucker will be the challenge at hand for Clemson.

“They bring a lot to the table as far as different looks, a lot different looks that I haven’t seen this year,” Clemson defensive lineman Myles Murphy said about the Orange’s offense. “Something that we have to focus on for this week, we have to stay gap sound because if we’re not gap sound, it could break out and be a big run or vice versa, in a big pass.”

Linebacker James Skalski says, at least on the defensive side, the venue doesn’t matter for him. In fact, the Georgia native’s top tackling performance of the season came in the opener at Bank of America Stadium against the Bulldogs with 14 of his Tigers-leading 41. He had only four tackles at N.C. State, but left the game early with an injury.

“People like to overthink it or make it something it’s not. It’s just football,” Skalski said. “It’s just a field, and we’re going to go play a team. … Maybe the offensive guys can feel that home-away vibe a little differently, but defensively you don’t. It’s just 100 yards of field and you’re just going to play another opponent. That’s how I look at it.”

For the Tigers’ offense, which ranks 116th in the nation, the focus will be finishing and trying not to depend on kicker B.T. Potter so much. They reached the red zone twice, both drives ended in field goals for Potter, who went 4-for-4 and matched Boston College’s 13 points after kicking a PAT on Clemson’s only touchdown of the game.

The Tigers were able to move the ball with 438 yards of total offense, the most against an FBS opponent this season by almost 200 yards.

“We’ve just got to put it all together,” Swinney said. “This past game, we were very, very close. We’ve got to get it done.”

Prediction: Clemson 24, Syracuse 14

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