SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Give Durell Eskridge credit. Even as No. 3 Clemson prepares to make a trip to Syracuse, the Orange free safety is unfazed.
And he believes his teammates aren’t either.
“It’s confidence,” Eskridge said. “We always come in confident. We don’t lay down against nobody, no matter who it is. Once you come in the (Carrier) Dome and you think it’s going to be a walk in the park, we’re going to show you otherwise.”
Even if the Tigers stroll in on the arm of star quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC) is tied for fifth nationally in turnover margin with a plus-1.8 mark on the strength of five interceptions and four fumble recoveries by its stalwart defense and only two turnovers – two lost fumbles and zero interceptions – by the Tigers’ offense.
A lot of that, of course, has to do with Boyd. So, in their ACC debut, the Orange (2-2) will be tested, regardless of how much confidence they have.
The Syracuse defense likes to blitz and has matched Clemson with five picks and four fumble recoveries, but the Orange offense has committed seven turnovers (six interceptions and one lost fumble). On the plus side for Syracuse, though, is no turnovers in its last two games – convincing victories over Wagner (54-0) and Tulane (52-17) that have righted a season that started badly.
“Syracuse plays extremely hard,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “This team loves to pressure. They love to bring one more than you got. If they could blitz 12, they’d blitz 12. They’re very confident in their system.
“Their main objective is to try and disrupt the quarterback from bringing pressure from every angle. This is probably the biggest pressure team that we’ve faced. So we’ve got to have a great plan for that.”
Versatile Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas figures it’s going to be fun trying to counter the Orange assault.
“Just the challenge,” Thomas said. “If you bring pressure, it obviously means we’re doing something good for you to bring pressure. That’s a challenge for us that we as offensive linemen look forward to. I think that will help us along the way seeing (teams) like that later on.”
Boyd presents a challenge that few quarterbacks in America can match. A full-time player for less than three seasons, he has produced 9,971 yards and is fourth on the ACC’s career list, behind only North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers, Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton, and Duke’s Thaddeus Lewis. Boyd is 73 of 114 for 994 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions this season. He’s also rushed for 159 yards on 49 carries with four more scores.
“They’re taking it as a challenge,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer. “Big games take care of themselves. They’ll be as ready as they can be. You always try to keep a balance. The kids will be fired up.”
The Tigers are just the 11th Top 5 team to visit the Carrier Dome since it opened in 1980 and the highest-ranked team to visit since No. 1 Miami in 2002. That one didn’t turn out so well for the Orange – a 49-7 loss.
At the bottom of Division I when Doug Marrone took over four years ago and hired Shafer as his defensive coordinator, Syracuse has made the climb back to respectability, winning two bowls in the past three years. And in the past two seasons, the Orange gave a pair of highly ranked teams with star quarterbacks sound beatings. They beat Geno Smith and No. 11 West Virginia 49-23 in 2011, and Teddy Bridgewater and No. 11 Louisville 45-26 last November.
For the Tigers, it’s just another game on the way to what they hope are greater things. For the Orange, it’s a chance that doesn’t come along very often, and they don’t want to flop on national television.
“You always want to amp it up when competition’s around,” Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt said. “Even though (Boyd) is one of the great quarterbacks up for the Heisman, you want to beat him, lead the team to victory. It’s not about the quarterback, it’s about beating the No. 3 team in the nation right now.”