SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Syracuse defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough smiled a nervous smile. Just the thought of preparing to face Tajh Boyd can have that effect.
At least Bullough has had a bye week to help prepare for Clemson’s star quarterback and the No. 3 Tigers (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who visit the Carrier Dome today.
“He challenges everybody,” Bullough said. “He can scramble when it breaks down, but he also can throw the ball real well. It’s just going to be one of those games where we just have to play within the scheme of the defense and make plays.
“Obviously, he’s going to make some plays. The receivers are going to make some plays. We’ve just got to keep going to the next play.”
Syracuse (2-2) will be making its ACC debut under rookie coach Scott Shafer, and the Orange expect to excel.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt, who will make just his second career start. “We’re not going to change up and try to do any trickery. We’re confident. We think we’re able to win.”
Syracuse is 2-0 at the Carrier Dome this season, winning its last two games convincingly, 54-0 over Wagner, and 52-17 two weeks ago over Tulane.
“Coming off two big wins, blowout-type wins, they’ve had an open day, so there’s no doubt they’re going to be very confident,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “The biggest thing is they play very, very tough at home. We’re going to have to play very well, there’s no question about it. But we look forward to the challenge.”
Here are five things to watch for:
THE BOYD FACTOR: Boyd is 73 of 114 for 994 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s also rushed for 159 yards on 49 carries and scored four times. In less than three full seasons, he has produced 9,971 yards.
THE HUNT FACTOR: Hunt just might be the best-kept quarterbacking secret in America. In three games, the Syracuse sophomore has performed at a very high level, completing 33 of 43 passes for 468 yards and seven scores with no interceptions. He’s also rushed 12 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Hunt’s 221.89 pass efficiency rating would rank second in FBS if he met the minimum standard of 15 pass attempts per game. And his 76.7 completion percentage would lead the nation if he met the same minimum requirement. Hunt has guided the Orange on 19 offensive series this season. Fifteen have resulted in points.
THE DOME FACTOR: Syracuse is almost a two-touchdown underdog. The Orange have won six straight at home since a 42-41 loss to Northwestern in the 2012 season opener. And the average margin of victory during the streak is 25 points. It promises to be sweltering inside on Saturday with no air conditioning and outside temperatures predicted to be in the mid-70s. A crowd of over 40,000 is expected. “The biggest thing there is just making sure we make that 12th man ever-present, get that place rocking,” Shafer said. “That’s going to be a big key to victory.”
UPTEMPO ATTACK: Syracuse uses a fast-paced offense that’s intent on putting defenses on their heels. The Orange easily did that to Wagner and Tulane, but Clemson presents an awful lot of problems. The Tigers’ defense has forced nine turnovers and their offense has committed just two. “They don’t hold the ball at all,” Swinney said. “They’ve only given up four sacks. Part of that is a function of what they do in their passing game. That ball is out quick. A lot of quick gain. A lot of throws in rhythm. They’ve got an excellent scheme.”
RECEIVERS GALORE: Boyd makes the Clemson offense click, but he has plenty of help. The Tigers have an array of receivers — Sammy Watkins (25 catches, 355 yards, two TDs), to Martavis Bryant (12, 189, 2), to Germone Hopper (12, 109, 2), to Adam Humphries (12, 120). In all, 10 players have caught scoring passes. “I think that makes a quarterback dynamic when you can run and throw and have great receivers to throw to,” Syracuse safety Durell Eskridge said. “It gives us a chance to show the world what we really can do.”