Syracuse at Clemson: 5 Things to Watch For

JP-Priester

After going on the road and putting a 73-7 beating on Georgia Tech, No. 1 Clemson returns home this weekend for a noon matchup with Syracuse. 

The Orange haven't had much go right for them so far this season. They had several players decide to opt out, including their top two running backs and have now been hit by the injury bug, including losing starting quarterback Tommy DeVito for the rest of the season. 

Currently, sitting at 1-4, Dino Babers team hit a low point last weekend when they lost 38-21 to FCS team Liberty, the Flames first ever win over a Power-5 team. Having to come into Death Valley off such a demoralizing loss and face the number one team in the nation will be challenging, to say the very least. 

Today All Clemson takes a look at five things to keep an eye on when the Tigers and Orange square off at noon on Saturday in Memorial Stadium.

1. Travis Etienne: It isn't very often that an opponent holds Etienne to under five yards per carry but that is exactly what Georgia Tech did last weekend as the senior running back finished with just 44 yards rushing on 11 carries. With the Clemson offense clicking on all cylinders at the moment, teams are having to pick their poison when it comes to how they defend the Tigers. However the Orange choose to defend Clemson it will be interesting to see if Etienne is kept bottled up in two straight games. He is now just 128 yards shy of setting the ACC's all time record for rushing yards in a career. 

2. Backup Quarterbacks: Second string quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei missed the Tigers last game with a bruised shoulder suffered in the Miami game. Taisun Phommachanh, third on the depth chart, left last weekends game after breaking a bone in his non-throwing hand. Both are expected back this week against Syracuse but nothing is set in stone. If the Tigers can jump up early on the Orange and build a substantial lead, will this finally be the game in which the coaching staff decides to cut Uiagalelei loose and let him run this offense? How will Phommachanh look just days removed from surgery on that left hand? Or is this another game in which we see a heavy dose of freshman walk-on Hunter Helms?

3. Turnover Margin: As bad as things have been for Syracuse this season, the one thing they have excelled at is forcing turnovers. The Orange have already forced 16 this season and they lead the nation in turnover margin. One of the quickest ways to let an overmatched team hang around is to start turning the ball over. The Tigers offense has been very good this season about not committing many turnovers and that is something that needs to continue on Saturday. 

4. Clemson DL vs Syracuse OL: The Syracuse offensive line has not been very good when it comes to pass protection. The Orange have already allowed 24 sacks on the season and this Clemson defense can get after the quarterback. Sixteen different players have combined for 24 sacks and with Tommy DeVito already out for the season injured the Orange can ill-afford to have another quarterback banged up. 

5. Xavier Thomas: After missing the first three games, Thomas saw his first action of the season two weeks ago against Miami, playing a handful of snaps late in the fourth quarter of the blowout win. Last week he was on the field early and ended up playing 20 snaps. The Tigers star defensive end is likely to even see more time on the field this week and with the Orange having issues struggling to protect the quarterback, this could be the week in which Thomas gets his first sack of the season.

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