Syracuse, Clemson heading in opposite directions
If Syracuse is trying to catch up with No. 1 Clemson, Orange coach Dino Babers believes his team has plenty of company.
“The entire country is chasing Clemson,” Babers said. “Alabama is chasing Clemson. Everybody is chasing Clemson. I think it’s fortunate for us every year we get an opportunity to play them. I don’t look at that as a thing that’s bad. I look at that as something that’s good.”
It has not been good recently. The teams, which meet Saturday, are headed in opposite directions.
Clemson (5-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won the past 26 straight against league opponents and is seeking a 6-0 start for the sixth straight season.
Syracuse (1-4, 1-3) is coming off a loss at home to Liberty and has struggled to stay competitive.
That wasn’t always the case in this series. Babers and the Orange were the last ACC team to take down the Tigers with a 27-24 upset in 2017. Syracuse was on the verge of doing it again a year later, holding a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Tigers rallied for a 27-23 win.
Since then, Clemson has gone on to two more ACC titles and a national championship. Syracuse is 12-13 and Babers may be sitting on the hottest coaching seat in the league.
Clemson, coming off a 73-7 win at Georgia Tech, is a more than six-touchdown favorite to blow apart Syracuse.
Defensive lineman Josh Black said Syracuse can’t get caught up in off-the-field scenarios. “They’re football players just like us and whoever competes the best on that said day will get the win,” he said.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney also doesn’t want his players thinking about the way Syracuse has played so far. He remembers too well losing to the Orange. “This isn’t about a record,” Swinney said. “This is about (Clemson) playing well, period.”
Some other things to look for when Syracuse plays No. 1 Clemson:
Look for Clemson fourth string quarterback Hunter Helms to see some action as Trevor Lawrence’s backup. Helms is a 6-foot-1, 210-pound freshman walk on who threw two touchdown passes in last week’s 73-7 win at Georgia Tech. But with backup D.J. Uiagalelei enduring shoulder tightness and third-string Taisun Phommachahn having surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand, Helms could get the first call in after Lawrence.
Syracuse is allowing more than 400 yards and nearly 30 points a game this season as Babers tries to find the right combination. To that end, he’s started four freshman on defense each of the last two games and lost both at home to Duke and Liberty. The Orange, though, lead the country with 16 forced turnovers.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers said he’s addressed the issue of receiver Taj Harris flashing his middle finger to TV cameras late in the Orange’s loss to Liberty last week. Harris apologized to his teammates on Sunday. “A young man making a mistake,” Babers said. “We all understand.”
On a team known for dancing after victories, freshman receiver Ajou Ajou stands out for Clemson. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence said he’s never met anyone who loves to dance more than the 6-3 freshman from Canada. Ajou was among 17 different pass catchers last week and caught a 35-yard TD in the rout of Georgia Tech.
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Swinney has gotten plenty of questions about quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s eventual NFL landing spot the past few weeks. Lawrence, the 6-foot-6, long-haired junior, is widely expected to the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Swinney and Lawrence have gotten their share of attention from the New York media since the Jets are 0-6. “Man, we’re popular in New York,” Swinney said.