No. 1 Clemson wary of ACC rival Syracuse

Field Level Media

September 11, 2019 at 12:06 am.

Clemson is ranked No. 1 in the nation, and Syracuse is coming off a 43-point loss at Maryland, so it looks like a mismatch when the teams meet Saturday night.

But the past two seasons tell a different story.

“All you have to do is look at recent history,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “They beat us up there two years ago and had us on the mat for a two-count here last year.”

Indeed, Clemson got a touchdown run from Travis Etienne with 41 seconds left in last season’s home game to cap a comeback from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win, 27-23.

In 2017, the Orange stunned Clemson in the Carrier Dome, 27-24. The Tigers, who haven’t lost an Atlantic Coast Conference game since, will be back in Syracuse, N.Y., on Saturday night.

“They’re really, really good,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “We’re probably seeing one of the best teams of an era that you’re going to see.”

Clemson (2-0, 1-0 ACC) is off to another strong start after posting a 15-0 record and second national title in three years last season. The Tigers have walloped Georgia Tech (52-14) and topped Texas A&M (24-10) while running their winning streak to a school record-tying 17 games in a row.

Syracuse (1-1) opened by blanking Liberty (24-0) but is coming off a crushing 63-20 defeat at Maryland that knocked the Orange from the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.

“Last week’s game got away from them, but that won’t be the version of Syracuse that we will see,” Swinney said. “Our team has a lot of respect for Syracuse. Dino’s done a great job up there. We are well aware of the type of effort and energy and toughness that we will face in this Syracuse team.”

And that excites Swinney.

“It’s the next step for us,” Swinney said. “If we’re going to be a great team, then we’ve got to be able to win on the road. It takes maturity and mental toughness to go and execute at a high level in a tough environment.”

The Dome is sold out for the first time in more than two decades for the game, which pits the four-time defending ACC champion against a Syracuse team that finished second in the league’s Atlantic Division last season, when it won 10 games for the first time since 2001.

Clemson is led by sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Etienne, a junior running back. Etienne rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse last season. He is averaging 9.2 yards per carry this season.

“That guy is special,” Babers said. “You know he’ll be playing in the (NFL), and hopefully we got a story that we can say we did good against him one time. But there’s not gonna be too many stories like that written about him, that’s for sure.”

Lawrence, a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, hasn’t had to do too much so far, completing 37 of 58 passes for 436 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Tommy DeVito, Syracuse’s first-year starting quarterback, is 45 of 74 for 506 yards, with three TDs and three interceptions.

Babers said he was eager to see how his team responds from the blowout at Maryland.

“Maybe we rebooted and everything’s going to be OK,” Babers said. “But we’ll have to see.”