CLEMSON — Usually we pepper an opposing team’s beat writer with five questions about the upcoming matchup. But being that Syracuse is the new kid on the block, and there’s plenty more than five storylines to follow Saturday, a couple more were added … which conveniently plugs your favorite sporadically-placed blog post theme.
Seven questions from the Tiger Tracks operator, and seven thoughtful answers from Nate Mink, who covers the Orange for the Syracuse Post-Standard. You can follow Nate on Twitter @MinkNate, and his partner in beat crime is Michael Cohen @Michael_Cohen13.
Read all the way to an end for a recommendation on a local establishment, which Nate kindly tossed in himself. Now THAT’S got to become a weekly question for opposing beat writers on the road.
Aaron Brenner, Post & Courier: I’m gonna quote head coach Scott Shafer directly from ACC Media Days, speaking about Clemson: “They’re a hell of a frickin’ team, and they scare the hell out of you as a coach; but it’s a challenge we relish. We’re not afraid of anybody at Syracuse – never have been.” First off, how’s his stance on the good-as-or-better-than-advertised Tigers this week, and secondly, does he routinely drop colorful one-liners?
Nate Mink, Post-Standard: How Shafer is approaching this game behind closed doors; I’m not sure we’re really privy to that. Certainly, publicly he is saying this is just another week on the schedule. One thing I know for certain is that he really respects the talent Clemson brings on the offensive side of the ball.
He routinely refers to Tajh Boyd as Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback and has heaped a lot of praise on Clemson’s wide receivers as well.
Actually, I’ve found Shafer to be pretty vanilla in the interview room. Occasionally he is known to toss around a lot of “frickin’s”, a lot of “hells” and a lot of “damns.”
Brenner: Generally, Shafer didn’t want to change his own style and the way he runs the program too drastically from Doug Marrone. A month into it, how’s the transition going?
Mink: I think anytime there’s a first-year head coach, there’s going to be a list of things that pile up at the end of the year which you tweak before Year 2. That said, it’s been a disciplined team that hasn’t had any off-field issues since the spring, and aside from the first half at Northwestern in Week 2, I think you have to like the way the team has competed if you’re a Syracuse fan. The players really like the staff, which signals a level of honesty from that group and a mutual respect.
Brenner: Quarterback Drew Allen didn’t play so well in losses against Penn State (neutral) and Northwestern (road), then Terrel Hunt lights it up at home against Wagner and Tulane. Who’s got a better chance of succeeding against Clemson?
Mink: Terrel Hunt will be the starter moving forward unless there is a significant drop off in production at the position. Really, the only question left unanswered with regards to Hunt is can he play as efficiently as he has against an opponent in the upper-half of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
I think Hunt’s ability to slide around in the pocket to extend plays and take off and gain yardage with his legs is advantageous against Clemson, as it would against any opponent. I think the crowd can play a role in Saturday’s game. Hunt has been the offense’s sparkplug; any time he can move the chains could help keep the crowd into it.
Brenner: Clemson defensive coaches have raved about the Orange’s physicality up front on offense. Please detail.
Mink: The left tackle Sean Hickey is really strong and I think will be playing on Sundays soon. I think most Clemson fans have probably seen Dabo Swinney‘s quote where he referred to running back Jerome Smith as “a load.” Even though it’s still relatively early in the season, Smith has not been overworked. Syracuse could use as many as four running backs on Saturday, and all four can run off tackle and up the middle.
Brenner: Clemson offensive coaches seem terrified of the Orange’s blitz packages. Please detail.
Mink: I would suggest popping in the Northwestern tape if they’re that worried. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian countered Syracuse’s blitz brilliantly with a quick release and by attacking the perimeter. I think a real important key to this game is Syracuse’s ability to press Boyd and throw off his timing to his receivers. Otherwise, you’re looking at Clemson’s perimeter skill guys against Syracuse’s secondary, and I think Clemson has an advantage there.
Brenner: BONUS QUESTION! This being Syracuse’s first ACC game, and a program that’s enjoying a renaissance to relevance, is the campus and fan base fairly amped for Saturday’s showdown? What do you expect out of the Carrier Dome crowd?
Mink: I think the most talked-about topic this week is the crowd for Saturday’s game. I’ll refrain from comment about whether that’s a good thing or not, but I will tell you there is a lot of anticipation for being able to host a top-ranked opponent at the Carrier Dome. Early estimate for attendance will probably be in the mid-40s, and the Dome holds just less than 50,000. My Dome experience has been Wagner and Tulane, so it will be fun to see how loud it can get. A lot of the long-time SU fans have spoken up this week about the noise level inside that building when it’s full.
Brenner: BONUS QUESTION #2! Help a beat writer out here (and visiting fans): is it really that stuffy in the Carrier Dome? Should we pack those handheld spray fans like you bring to WaterWorld?
Mink: The Carrier Dome is named after an air conditioning manufacturer. Naturally, there’s no air conditioning in the building. On the plus side, beer is sold inside the stadium, despite it being located on campus. I recommend dressing lightly, and it should be a good tailgating day. Definitely hit up Dinosaur BBQ downtown if you have a chance (it’s worth the wait).