Two of the nine undefeated teams in the country collide Saturday when No. 5 Clemson hosts No. 14 Syracuse in an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
The Tigers (7-0, 5-0 ACC) were expected to be among the nation’s elite teams, and they have backed it up with a perfect start to the season that includes wins over ranked foes Wake Forest and North Carolina State.
Most recently, Clemson nipped Florida State 34-28 last weekend as DJ Uiagalelei passed for three touchdowns and rushed for another. After throwing nine TD passes and 10 interceptions a season ago, Uiagalelei has a sparkling 17-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season.
“I think he is much better, much more improved,” Orange coach Dino Babers said. “Their offense has changed dramatically based off of his improvement, and it’s a testament to him.”
The Tigers’ signal-caller threw a touchdown pass in last season’s 17-14 triumph in Syracuse. Clemson survived when Orange kicker Andre Szmyt missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute.
“This will take a little time to get over,” Babers said that day after his team fell to the Tigers for the fourth straight season.
Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader struggled in that one to the tune of 17-of-37 passing for 191 yards with a touchdown and a pick. He did add a rushing touchdown but totaled only 6 yards on seven carries.
Syracuse’s Sean Tucker ran for 157 yards in that matchup and will certainly be a focal point of the Tigers’ defense this weekend after running for 330 yards over the past two games for the surprising Orange (6-0, 3-0).
Oronde Gadsden II is another player the Clemson coaching staff will be focused on ahead of Saturday. The sophomore wideout caught two touchdown passes from Shrader — and made eight catches for 141 yards total — last week in the Orange’s 24-9 victory over then-No. 15 NC State.
“I was explaining it to the players on Sunday. … This is only the third time that we’ve been (undefeated) this deep in over three decades,” Babers said. “It’s rare, you should cherish it, you should understand this moment and not let it go past you right now, it’s something that you should look at and be proud of.”
While Syracuse’s coach is brimming with confidence, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and many of his players were bummed to let a 20-point fourth-quarter lead slip down to six points in the final quarter vs. Florida State.
Still, Swinney is upbeat about Uiagalelei.
“What he’s provided for our team is just great leadership and excellent decision-making,” Swinney said. “He’s so coachable. This guy, he truly prepares like a pro every single day. He is a great preparer. He loves it. And I’m really, really proud of him. He’s been awesome.”
The Tigers have scored at least 30 points in every game this season, while the Orange rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 13.2 points per contest.
The Syracuse defense should present a serious challenge for a Clemson squad that has won 37 straight home games.
“I think that we’ve beaten some good teams, and to go on the road and win is not easy,” Swinney said. “So, I think we’re pretty battle-tested, and we’ve just got to keep moving. Nothing carries over to next week. We’ve got to start over.”
–Field Level Media