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Previewing Clemson at Syracuse, Purdue at No. 2 Iowa, and California at No. 9 Oregon

Here’s a look at three college football games that should be close this Friday and Saturday.

In what’s a solid weekend of college football action, here’s a look at three games from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10 Conference, and Pac 12 Conference. Each of the three games should be close throughout.

None of these teams have been tearing it up offensively, but there have been glimpses of hope that at least one team like Syracuse could take that next step.

Clemson at Syracuse (Friday)

There’s trouble in Clemson, S.C. The Tigers’ offense cannot move the football consistently, and signal caller DJ Uiagalelei completed 46.2% and 46.4% of his passes during Clemson’s last two contests.

Yes, Clemson lost good players like freshman running back Will Shipley to injury, but there’s something amiss with the Tigers’ offense. Clemson’s offense proved to be out of sync from the opening quarter of the college football season and has not found a consistent rhythm thereafter. Syracuse could be a scary team, in the Carrier Dome on Friday evening, if Clemson does not get its act together.

Look for Clemson to take some chances with bombs down the field in an attempt to open up the offense. There’s talent at wide receiver with Joseph Ngata leading the way, but he did not yet find the endzone in 2021. Again, this Clemson passing attack struggled all season long. The Tigers will be faced with a special player along the Syracuse defensive line, and he could help to keep Clemson's passing game in a funk.

The Orange are led by senior defensive end Cody Roscoe. He’s No. 2 nationally with 6.5 sacks on the year. Clemson’s offensive line allowed a modest 10 sacks through five games, so this should be a matchup to watch. To help keep Roscoe at bay, the Clemson offensive line needs to open holes for running back Kobe Pace and the rest of the Tigers’ running backs.

Syracuse defensive end Cody Roscoe is one of the best defensive players in all of college football

Syracuse defensive end Cody Roscoe is one of the best defensive players in all of college football

Pace started to come on after Shipley’s injury, rushing 18 times for 125 yards and a touchdown against Boston College. He could be the key to the Tigers for the rest of the 2021 season.

As for Syracuse, the Orange rely on the legs of its quarterback Garrett Shrader. He’s rushed for 315 yards and three touchdowns during the past two games. Considering the Orange are led in receptions by a freshman running back, Sean Tucker, with 204 yards, it places into perspective where the Syracuse passing game truly is. The Orange are going to need to play better Friday evening, beginning with the passing game, or it’s going to be in big trouble.

A totally different level of defense will be coming after Shrader, as Clemson’s defense ranks No. 20 nationally by allowing just 306.4 yards per game, and just 102.6 yards allowed on the ground. If Syracuse can find some balance with its passing attack, there’s a chance that the Orange can hit some plays over the top of the secondary of the Tigers.

Shrader completed just 28 of his 50 passes during the past two contests, so Syracuse being able to run the football truly should be considered a big “if” for this game because Clemson will likely crowd the line of scrimmage and force Syracuse to pass.

Look for an ugly football game, but one that Clemson wins with more sheer athletes at the skill positions.

Clemson 23 Syracuse 19

Purdue at No. 2 Iowa

After a heart-pounding victory over former No. 4 ranked Penn State last weekend, the Hawkeyes need to stay focused against a Purdue team that’s been back-and-forth with quarterbacks, but now seems to be ready to play Aidan McConnell after his 34 of 52 for 371 yards and one touchdown performance versus Minnesota last weekend.

Well, at least that’s the prevailing thought process. Time will tell the tale. Even if Purdue goes with Jack Plummer at quarterback, it’s a dangerous team if it just stays out of its own way. The Boilermakers move the football, but will inevitably produce a turnover, missed block, or penalty that negates an otherwise strong drive.

Will this be the week that Purdue plays good football for four quarters? Against Iowa, it better, or it will be a long day in Kinnick Stadium.

The Hawkeyes allow just 13.0 points per game, good for No. 4 nationally. The rush defense holds opponents to a paltry 90.5 yards per game. If the Boilermakers and their running game do not top the century mark on the ground, it will be hard to stick with the Hawkeyes.

Purdue’s offense, like any other offense, needs play-action to be truly effective. Running back King Doerue averages 4.5 yards per carry, and he’s playing behind an offensive line that’s prone to mistakes. If the big guys up front play just a little bit better, Doerue can make some noise in Iowa City. That would give whichever Purdue quarterback a chance to hit more big plays.

As for the Iowa offense, signal caller Spencer Petras started off the Penn State game playing awful football, but then reversed course and finished the game 17 of 31 for 195 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. If he plays any place near as well as he did in the second half, Iowa should be in good shape offensively.

Spencer Petras and the Iowa offensive line need to be more consistent when playing Purdue as opposed to how it played versus Penn State.

Spencer Petras and the Iowa offensive line need to be more consistent when playing Purdue as opposed to how it played versus Penn State.

The Hawkeyes rushing attack continued to be led by running back Tyler Goodson against Penn State, as he racked up 25 carries for 88 yards. It’s important to note that Goodson averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry during each of Iowa’s last two games at Maryland and at home against Penn State.

For the Hawkeyes to continue to be a team in contention for the College Football Playoffs, the Iowa offensive line needs to perform better as a unit. Goodson is a future NFL player, but he’s had little room to run. While the Hawkeyes will not dominate Purdue’s rushing defense, which allows 122.4 yards per game, Iowa should do just enough to win a heated battle with Purdue.

Iowa 31 Purdue 23

California at No. 9 Oregon

This game might not gain much national attention, but it’s a good test for Oregon. Will the Ducks be completely dialed into the game? They need to be. The Bears lost three close games this season and simply have nothing to lose.

If Oregon comes out flat, this could be a closer game than most project the game to be. Further, Oregon Quarterback Anthony Brown did not throw the football well during the upset loss to Stanford, with the final score being 31-24. Brown did not throw a touchdown and completed just 14 of 26 passes for 186 yards and one interception. To help Brown, the Oregon offense needs to be more consistent with its power football approach.

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There’s no question that the Ducks will attempt to pound the football. With running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye accounting for 788 yards and nine touchdowns so far in 2021, the Ducks should be considered a run-first offense.

CJ Verdell, Running Back, Oregon

CJ Verdell, Running Back, Oregon

That’s where this game becomes interesting. Will Calfironia play an aggressive defense in an attempt to force Brown to pass the football? If Oregon needs to rely on its passing attack as the primary source for points, this game could be quite interesting. Brown topped the 200-yard passing plateau just two out of five games this season, and he’s completing only 56.1% of his passes.

California’s defense allows just 119.2 yards per game on the ground, ranking the Bears No. 38 nationally. This statistic should be considered a prime reason why California can pull the upset. That's a solid run defense. On the other side of the football, the Bears need to play much better than it did during its prior contest.

California’s offense relies on balance, averaging 249.0 yards passing per game, and 158.6 yards on the ground. During its 21-6 loss to Washington State, however, quarterback Chase Garbers passed for just 152 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. California rushed 34 times for 117 yards, just a 3.4 yards per carry average. 

If that type of rushing statistic shows up in the box score against Oregon, It will be unlikely that California has a chance to win barring several Oregon miscues via turnovers.

California needs to stay balanced, allow Garbers better opportunities to make down-the-field passes, and stay out of third down and long situations. California was a horrific three of 15 on third down against the Cougars two weeks ago. 

With a bye week, perhaps the Bears can now improve upon their third down woes. It's not inconceivable for California to get its offense going against an Oregon team that allowed 21.8 points per game so far in 2021, as well as 275.2 yards passing per game. Still, Oregon is at home and they should be hungry after the loss to Stanford.

Brown needs to be more accurate with the football, and while he will be challenged against California, he should be able to hit a few big plays with Oregon's rushing attack setting the stage for play-action passing. Oregon comes off a bye week just like California does, to improve its offense as well. The Ducks possess more offensive weapons and hit more big plays to win this close game.

Oregon 31 California 23

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