Matt Connolly

Clemson vs. Syracuse: Five burning questions ... and a prediction

No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 1-0) will host Syracuse (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday at noon in a game that will be televised by ABC.

Here are our top five questions heading into the game:

How will Clemson’s team respond to a hectic week?

It has been a crazy week at Clemson, to say the least, with Trevor Lawrence being named the starting quarterback on Monday and senior Kelly Bryant announcing he was transferring two days later. Bryant started the previous 18 games for Clemson and led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff last year. He was one of the leaders of the team and was close friends with several important pieces on Clemson’s roster. Add in the fact that veteran Clelin Ferrell said of Bryant prior to the season, “The whole team is behind him,” and it’s safe to assume this was an interesting week behind the scenes. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney acknowledged that there have probably been lots of conversations in the locker room about the move. Swinney has stayed out of those conversations, saying, “That’s their world in there.” But he will have to rally everyone together and have Clemson ready to play Saturday against an undefeated Syracuse team that beat the Tigers last season.

Can Trevor Lawrence handle the pressure?

The quarterback spot is now Lawrence’s moving forward barring an injury, as he is the only remaining QB on the roster who has proven he can go out and consistently play well in games. Lawrence now has to prove that he can do it for four quarters and handle the pressure that comes with being the guy. There is also some pressure on Lawrence to live up to the hype now that he has been anointed the starting quarterback, especially with some outside of the program (and perhaps even some of his teammates) who believe Bryant should still be starting.

Can Clemson slow down Syracuse’s offense?

Quarterback Eric Dungey and the Orange gave Clemson fits last year, putting up 440 yards of offense in the stunning 27-24 victory. Members of Clemson’s defense said this week that the Tigers “didn’t show up” last season, while defensive coordinator Brent Venables said his unit made simple mistakes on the first three plays of the game and never put it together. Swinney called Clemson’s performance last year “embarrassing.” The Orange are averaging 49.5 points per game through the first four weeks of 2018 and will provide another tough test for Clemson’s defense.

Subscribe today: Only $30 for 1 year

Our all-new Sports Pass is only $30 for one year and gets you unlimited access to our Clemson Tigers stories and all of The State's Sports coverage. Subscribe now!

How will Clemson’s secondary perform?

The Tigers have played three triple option teams and one traditional offense through the first four weeks of the season, and the one team that threw the ball around in Texas A&M had all kinds of success against the Tigers. Texas A&M passed for more than 400 yards in Clemson’s 28-26 victory and found holes in the Tigers’ young secondary. Syracuse plays at a quick tempo, meaning that Clemson’s defensive backs could get worn down. The Tigers have three options they’re comfortable with at cornerback in A.J. Terrell, Trayvon Mullen and Mark Fields, but after that there is lots of youth and inexperience.

Can Syracuse slow down Clemson?

The Orange have an improved defense but also still have plenty of work to do. Syracuse is allowing nearly 400 yards of offense per game and Lawrence has plenty of weapons to throw the ball to. Clemson also got its running game going last week as both Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster had solid showings. Syracuse may be able to score some points, but stopping Clemson is another story.

Prediction: Dabo Swinney is a master motivator, but he has quite the challenge this week. There are undoubtedly some players on Clemson’s team that wish Kelly Bryant was still the starting quarterback, and Swinney will have to carefully navigate that dynamic in the locker room. By the end of the week Swinney should have everyone on board and pulling in the same direction. The Tigers are looking to make a couple of statements this week: 1. They want to show that last year’s game against Syracuse was a fluke. 2. Clemson wants to prove that it can tune out the distractions and still play a strong football game. With Swinney’s track record and the leadership on this team, I expect Clemson to accomplish both goals.

Pick: Clemson 52, Syracuse 20