Clemson vs. Syracuse preview: Orange looking to end four-game skid against defending champs
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey was helpless last October as he watched Clemson dismantle the Orange in convincing fashion, a 54-0 beatdown just another step on the way to a national championship.
Dungey was knocked out of that game in the first quarter after a hit to the helmet and missed the rest of the season. Healthy again, he's anxious to show what he and the Orange offense can do when the second-ranked Tigers (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) visit the Carrier Dome on Friday night.
"I'm looking forward to having Clemson come into the dome," Dungey said. "It's not much fun watching from the sidelines. I'm happy with the team and the confidence the team has been getting."
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has taken note as he ponders a Friday the 13th matchup.
"They're very capable of beating us, no question about it," Swinney said. "They're a much improved football team from last year. We just jumped on them last year and got up. Their quarterback got hurt, and the game got away pretty quickly, but we expect a hard-fought, four-quarter battle going up there.
"They'll be excited for this matchup, at night, at home versus Clemson."
Syracuse has relied heavily on Dungey and his receivers to move the ball, and they'll have to continue to excel if the Orange hope to pull off an upset. Steve Ishmael has 56 catches for 729 yards to lead the nation in both categories, sidekick Ervin Philips has 52 receptions for 475 yards, and Dungey has thrown for nine touchdowns and rushed for eight more.
"He's a playmaker, man," Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph said of Dungey. "When he has space he can really make something happen."
The game will mark the ninth time since the inception of the Associated Press poll in 1936 that the Orange have played the defending national champion, and they've only won twice — Penn State in 1987 and Michigan in 1998.
Clemson is on an 11-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the nation, has won a school-record 12 straight on an opponent's home field, and is 4-0 against the Orange since Syracuse joined the ACC.
"The odds are against us, but we'll be there Friday night," Orange coach Dino Babers said. "We'll see what happens."
Other things to know when No. 2 Clemson plays at Syracuse on Friday night:
BRYANT'S BACK: Clemson QB Kelly Bryant sprained his left ankle last week against Wake Forest, left the game in the third quarter, and was limited in practice early this week. Swinney said Bryant likely will start, but backups Zerrick Cooper, a redshirt freshman, and freshman Hunter Johnson are ready if needed.
THIRD DOWN SHUTDOWN: The Orange defense ranks sixth nationally and third in the ACC in third-down conversion percentage defense (24.7), and it's tied for third nationally in defensive three-and-outs, averaging 6.5 per game.
Against these Tigers, it might not matter.
"When you play a team like that, you can stop them on third down but they can go explosive on you on first and second down," Babers said. "These guys are faster than us. If they get out there, we're not going to catch them. We can't let them get out there."
CLUTCH RECEIVERS: When Clemson needs to pick up a first down on third down, it looks to receiver Hunter Renfrow. The junior wideout has a team-high 29 catches this season, 10 on third-down plays that went for first downs. That's the fourth-best total in the country, with the national leader lining up against Clemson this week in Syracuse's Philips. Philips has 16 third-down catches, 11 going for first downs.
DEFENSE RULES: Clemson is ranked eighth nationally in total defense, limiting opponents to an average of 264.3 yards per game. More significantly, the Tigers have given up just eight touchdowns all season and no team has scored more than seven points against them through three periods.
COME ONE, COME SOMEBODY: Since the heady days of Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney two decades ago, Syracuse has struggled at the gate at home. After Syracuse joined the ACC in 2013, Clemson was the first league foe to visit the Carrier Dome and the game drew 48,961 fans, just shy of a sellout. That's the second-best turnout of this century at the Orange's indoor home, eclipsed only by the 49,033 that turned out for Virginia Tech in 2000. Clemson won its second visit to the dome two years ago, 37-27, and only 36,736 showed up to see the top-ranked team in the nation.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina contributed to this report.