SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Syracuse sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt is a confident guy, both in his team and his home fans.
Almost – no, definitely – a little too confident publicly in his Orange (2-2) headed into their ACC debut versus No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC), a 3:30 kick in the Carrier Dome.
“We have a great big chip on our shoulder because everybody classifies us as the underdog,” Hunt said, “but we’re going in thinking that things happen for a reason. Coach says let people praise (Clemson) because when we beat them it will be that much better.”
Oh, he continued.
“On TV, they (look like a top-5 team), but when you watch film – film never lies. You see a bunch of faults in their defense,” said Hunt. “I can’t speak to their offense, but on defense, you see faults and misreads. If you just keep it quick, we’ll be able to beat them.”
But wait, there’s more rattling of the Tigers’ cage.
“(The crowd can provide) a big advantage,” he said. “They’ll definitely be underestimating and they’re vulnerable. It gives us a great advantage because they’re not ready for the dome.
“There’s the heat and they’re tired and the fans are screaming on third down. The keys are jingling. They’re not used to that.”
“Heat” and Upstate N.Y. don’t usually mix outside of a month or two, but unseasonably warm conditions (mid 70s to low 80s) – plus a non-air-conditioned dome – has the idea at least in the back of the Tigers’ minds.
Clemson’s starting quarterback, Tajh Boyd, says they are well aware of what’s to come.
“I love playing on the road – not as much as playing at home – just the competitive nature comes out of you that much more,” Boyd said. “It’s a hostile environment and it’s also a place (Clemson) has never been…It’s going to be a challenge. It’s their homecoming and first ACC game and their crowd will be pumped up.”
With that crowd expected near the 50,000 needed for a sellout, the “Loud House” should live up to its moniker, in a place that’s been a graveyard for most any team of late.
Syracuse has won by 23.6 points per in its last seven home games. They’ve knocked off two top-20 teams in that span, in West Virginia (49-23 in 2011) and Louisville (45-26 in 2012).
Swinney embraces hostile road
Since its first game in 1980, the Carrier Dome has housed a .357 win percentage for the Orange against top-20 teams (15-26-1). By comparison, Clemson has a .461 percentage in the same time period (18-20-1).
“All you have to do is look at their track record at home,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s just like Death Valley in that it is a tough place to play. The formula doesn’t change though. If external factors are a part of your performance then you are never going to be a great football team.”
Clemson offensively has taken steps toward “great” status from about the second half of the N.C. State game on.
In the last six quarters, the Tigers have posted 741 yards and 69 points, converting 13-of-25 on third down (52 percent).
They’ve done so with a shuffled and re-shuffled offensive line, where former reserve left guard Kalon Davis will be making back-to-back starts for the first time in his career this week. Fellow junior David Beasley is expected to share time there as well returning from an ankle injury.
Right tackle is still up in the air in a battle between sophomore Shaq Anthony and junior Gifford Timothy.
The uncertainty is more a product of competition than weaknesses, says Tiger center Ryan Norton.
“I have confidence in our backups,” the sophomore said. “I know if Giff’s out that Shaq is going to step up. If Beasley is out, I know Kalon is going to step up. If I’m out, I feel like Jay (Guillermo) is going to step up. We have a lot of depth on this offensive line.”
They will certainly get a test in the road environment from an aggressive Syracuse ‘D,’ which ranks in the top-25 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. That may limit the deep shots, but it also puts an emphasis on execution in all other phases.
“We’ve got to get the ball out quick this game” junior receiver Sammy Watkins said. “There’s going to be a lot of quick plays and plays we have to make on the ground. We have to run the ball and be physical on the edge.”
Aiding the run game is a healthier leading rusher Rod McDowell, who paced Clemson with 132 rushing yards in the opener against Georgia, but hasn’t totaled that much combined in three games since. He sustained a concussion in week two and rolled his ankle early last week against Wake Forest, but Swinney said he practiced uninhibited this week.
The Orange spread it out, but they ride a ground-and-pound rushing attack to open up the passing game for their efficient sophomore gunslinger.
“They don’t hold the ball at all. They’ve only given up four sacks,” Swinney said. “Part of that is a function of what they do in their passing game. That ball is out quick. (It's) a lot of quick gain and a lot of throws in rhythm.
“They’re not a big dropback, stand there (and) sit in the pocket type of deal. And then they want to pound the rock.”
Taking over midway through their four-game set, Hunt has thrown for 468 yards and seven scores, completing passes at a 76.7 rate with no turnovers.
Defensively, Clemson has enforced its will in negative plays with top-six rankings in both going into this weekend’s action (No. 6 in sacks per game; No. 2 in TFL per game).
“They’re big, physical. They’re going to come straight at us,” Clemson middle linebacker Stephone Anthony said. “It’s going to be a test for us. That’s a challenge we welcome.”
The Tigers are going for only their third 5-0 start since 1981 – and a third 3-0 start in ACC play in the last 25 years.