SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Syracuse coach Scott Shafer has been thankful for a lot of things during his rookie season. Namely, his team has bounced back from a poor start to win consecutive games. And his program has a lot of buzz around it as ACC play looms.
But don’t forget the schedule makers. They gave the Orange a much-needed bye as they prepare for their league opener against No. 3 Clemson.
Shafer is definitely thankful for that.
“We’re,” he said Tuesday, “right where we need to be.”
As is Clemson.
The impressive Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) and their leader, Tajh Boyd, come to town on Saturday brimming with confidence. Boyd, just the second ACC quarterback to account for 100 career touchdowns, is shooting this year for a conference crown … and beyond.
The Tigers have won their first four games for the second time in Boyd’s three seasons as the starter, and he’s back in sync after two subpar games. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in a 56-7 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday. His 311 yards passing and 69 running moved him past Charlie Whitehurst as Clemson’s career total offense leader.
“He’s a great one,” Shafer said. “I don’t think you treat it different than any other game. It takes a little bit of balance, in my opinion. It’s focusing in and controlling the controllables in an environment where it would be easy to get overly excited to play outside the framework of who you are as an individual player. A lot of teams make the mistake of treating it as a world championship.”
Syracuse opened with losses to Penn State (23-17) and No. 16 Northwestern (48-27), but has recovered, albeit against lower competition. Syracuse defeated Wagner (54-0) and Tulane (52-17) to cruise into the bye week.
“Throwing a 5-yard pass to where it’s supposed to be thrown when a guy is open is no different against Wagner than it is against Clemson or the New York Giants,” Shafer said. “When kids don’t play well is when they get outside their mindset and their focus is too broad, but you don’t want to have it too narrow where you’re so uptight that you’re playing tight football.”
Syracuse drew a home crowd of just 33,299 for Wagner and 36,128 for Tulane, well below the Carrier Dome capacity of just under 50,000.
The last two times highly ranked teams visited – No. 11 West Virginia two years ago and No. 11 Louisville last season – the Orange drew 45,265 and 40,312, respectively. And Syracuse pulled upsets in both games, 49-23 over the Mountaineers on a raucous Fridaynight and 45-26 over the Cardinals.
Shafer is hoping for an encore performance.
“They’re excited and ready to roll,” he said. “They’re taking it as a challenge. I think they’re fired-up to get back into the Dome. Our crowd – our student body – are going to be extremely loud, making it a difficult environment. A lot of people have come up to me on the street and said, ‘Coach, don’t worry. We’ll be there.'”
And, in Shafer’s mind, the secret to success is simple.
“You have to stay within yourself, do what you have done, be the same guy,” Shafer said. “They may be an inch taller, a step faster, they might have a star more than we had coming out of high school, but at the end of the day it’s between the white lines.”