It would be a massive understatement to say Clemson has gotten off to a terribly disappointing start this fall. The Tigers lost two games in the month of September, something very few had pegged in their preseason predictions. Coming off a bye week now, the Tigers are staring down the challenge of a Friday night road trip up north to battle ACC foe Syracuse.
Clemson was off last week following a hard-fought 19-13 win against Boston College on Sept. 25 that left the Tigers in much need of some time to heal. The injuries have been piling up through the first weeks of the season, but by the end of the game against the Eagles, the preseason ACC favorites were without 16 players from the preseason depth chart. A few of those players could be back on Friday, but a majority won't because of long-term injury or departure from the team. After a week to regroup from the chaotic start, the Tigers team that takes the field on Friday night will be far from what we expected in July but closer to what we'll see in November when it comes time to hand out bids for the ACC Championship Game.
Syracuse enters the contest 3-3 overall but still in search of its first ACC win after losing back-to-back division games to Florida State and Wake Forest on last-second field goals. The Orange have played Clemson close in their short time as ACC Atlantic Division rivals and hope that competitiveness leads to a breakthrough win for the 2021 team in front of the home crowd and a national television audience.
Clemson vs. Syracuse: Need to know
Both teams are well-adjusted to close games: The Orange are not the only team in this matchup that has been caught in some nail-biters. While Syracuse has been on the losing end of last-second field goals in its last two outings, basically every has been a dog fight for Clemson. All four games against FBS opponents have been decided by one possession, and according to the school this is only the seventh time in the 126-year history of Clemson football that four of the first five games have been decided by eight points or fewer. Much of how that's played out in 2021 is due to Clemson both having offensive struggles and still having one of the better defenses in the country, leading to a lot of close, low-scoring games on a weekly basis.
Syracuse has an emerging star in Sean Tucker: While Syracuse at times under Dino Babers has relied on a wide-open passing attack, the 2021 Orange have found lots of success with a ground game powered by freshman running back Sean Tucker. Entering Friday's game, Tucker is leading the nation in all-purpose yards with 165.83 yards per game. Defending this backfield isn't easy to key in on either because quarterback Garrett Shrader has eight rushing touchdowns on the season and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games.
D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson offense still looking for a spark: Will the week off be just what D.J. Uiagalelei needs to find his form? Uiagalelei lit up both Boston College and Notre Dame through the air as a freshman when Trevor Lawrence was sidelined, but this season he has yet to throw for more than 207 yards in a game and he is yet to surpass his 2020 season total despite being the team's starter all season and caught in close games against every opponent. There are a number of factors contributing to Uiagalelei's slow start, including injuries at the skill positions and an offensive line that has not been dominant, but he also might have just needed some time to hit the reset button following a rocky start to the season that began with running for his life against Georgia's defense.
How to watch Clemson vs. Syracuse live
Date: Friday, Oct 15 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Carrier Dome -- Syracuse, New York
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Clemson vs. Syracuse prediction, pick
The best play here might be the under, but even that lean plays into Syracuse being able to cover this two-touchdown spread. Clemson has not beaten an FBS opponent by more than one touchdown yet this year, so are we sure it's going to get the offense clicking against a strong Syracuse defensive front? I think the Tigers win, but not by enough points to cover the spread. Prediction: Syracuse (+14)
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