The No. 1 Clemson Tigers travel to Syracuse this week to take on the Orange in Syracuse's home opener.
The stakes are even higher for the Orange as they look to pick up their second all-time win over a No. 1-ranked team, appear on ABC's "Saturday Night Football" for only the second time in school history and play in front of a sold-out homecoming crowd.
Head coach Dino Babers understands the challenge facing his Orange is one of epic proportions.
"I think we have a big test. What we just went through was big and now we have another opportunity against the best team in the country," Babers said. "I look at Clemson and think about the [1972 Miami Dolphins] going undefeated in the National Football League. It's only been done once. Other teams may get a Super Bowl ring, but they don't go undefeated. What Clemson did going undefeated is impressive, but to me that's a heck of an accomplishment, and now they have the opportunity to do it again. It's been very, very impressive."
Orange on offense
Since Babers arrived in 2016, Syracuse has run 3,210 plays in 39 games – an average of 82.3 plays per game.
The Orange have ranked in the top five in the FBS in total plays each of the past two seasons, including logging a school-record 1,063 plays in 2018. Syracuse's average of 81.8 plays per contest last season was second nationally to ACC rival Wake Forest (82.1).
This season, the Orange are averaging 74.5 plays per contest.
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Over the last two-plus seasons, the Orange have six 50-plus points games, third most of any ACC team during that span.
Five of those offensive outbursts came in 2018 as Syracuse established a new school record for 50-plus-point contests. The previous standard was set by the 1904 team, which achieved the feat four times. In 2018, the Orange matched the school record with 62 total touchdowns on the way to scoring 523 points, the highest single-season total in program history.
However, even facing a Tiger team that lost five defensive linemen to the NFL, Babers is not expecting anything to be easy.
"We have to find ways to win," Babers said. "That’s what we do. I think it’s easier to find ways when the elephants are full grown and the hippos are full grown. They need to grow up. There’s no way to get around it ... nobody is dropping a tear for us."
Orange on defense
The Orange's defense is led by fourth-year coordinator Brian Ward.
Ward led a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in five categories and recorded a school-record 43 sacks in 2018. He also coached all-ACC linebacker Ryan Guthrie, who led the league last year with 107 tackles. Since 2016, four Ward pupils (Guthrie, Zaire Franklin, Parris Bennett, Kielan Whitner) have recorded 100-tackle seasons.
This season, the defense should be one of Ward's best since arriving in Syracuse, as his squad returns seven starters.
This season, the challenge for the Orange is how do you get past the dungeons and dragons.
"It’s like Game of Thrones," Babers said. "He’s (Lawrence) got a castle, he’s got a moat, he’s got some dragons. That dude is protected. You really don’t get a chance unless he comes out of the pocket and when he comes out of the pocket, he’s athletic, he’s fast and he might throw better on the move than he does in the pocket. He’s the real deal."