Clemson vs. Syracuse: Who has the edge?

Clemson will look to remain the ACC Atlantic Division’s lone undefeated Saturday when the Tigers return home to host Syracuse in a tilt of ranked unbeatens that few if any saw coming before the season started.

Kickoff from Memorial Stadium is set for noon. The game will be televised by ABC.

Clemson’s defense vs. Syracuse’s offense: The Orange are playing a more balanced style of offensive football this season.

As the ACC’s second-leading rusher, Sean Tucker is still a handful in the running game operating behind an offensive line with all five starters back.

But Syracuse has done a much better job this season taking advantage through the air when teams stack the box trying to take away its ground game.

Garrett Shrader may be the league’s most improved quarterback with a completion rate (69.5%) that’s nearly 18 full percentage points higher than last season.

Oronde Gadsden has been a breakout player out wide and, at 6-foot-5, is a potential mismatch that Syracuse could try to exploit against the nation’s No. 95 pass defense.

Syracuse is also finding plenty of ways to get Tucker, the team’s second-leading receiver in terms of receptions, involved in the passing game, too.

But Syracuse has yet to face a top-30 defense nationally like it will Saturday. Clemson also ranks 26th in points allowed, eighth in tackles for loss and fourth in run defense,

so for some of the issues they’ve had on the back end, the Tigers are still disruptive up front.

Clemson will need a bounceback performance against Syracuse’s rushing attack after allowing a season-high 206 rushing yards to Florida State last week, but the Tigers are allowing less than 60 rushing yards on average at home this season.

If Clemson’s defensive front seven, which is whole again after dealing with attrition for much of the first half of the season, can slow down or even eliminate Syracuse’s ground game,

then it can focus on getting after Shrader on passing downs against an Orange offensive line that’s struggled to protect at times regardless of the level of competition.

Syracuse is allowing 2.1 sacks per game, which ranks in the bottom half of the ACC.

Advantage: Clemson Clemson’s offense vs. Syracuse’s defense: If Clemson’s defense is the strongest Syracuse’s offense has seen to this point, the same can be said about the matchup on the other side of the ball for each team.

In fact, there hasn’t been a better defense in all of the ACC than the Orange, who lead the conference in points allowed, yards allowed and passing yards allowed. And only Clemson has been stingier against the run than Syracuse (95 yards allowed per game).

The Orange run a 3-3-5 defense under third-year coordinator Tony White, a base look that’s becoming more rare in college football.

The linebackers are a veteran group led by Mikel Jones and Marlowe Wax, and cornerbacks Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut are next-level talents.

Prediction: Clemson 27, Syracuse 17


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