In the last six years, defending national champion Clemson has lost 10 games.
That alone puts Syracuse in select company.
The Orange’s 27-24 upset in the Carrier Dome last Friday night may be seen as a fluke, since all but two of those 10 that beat Clemson in that stretch were ranked, and five were top-10.
Syracuse may have tamed the Tigers at their house, and tangled with a banged-up group (quarterback Kelly Bryant was injured), but what they’ve done is more than enough to make Saturday’s game at Hard Rock Stadium (3:30 p.m., ESPN) a lot more interesting than previously anticipated.
Miami is bringing plenty of muscle to the matchup, of course. The Hurricanes (5-0, 3-0 ACC) are the only unbeaten team in the ACC, with Clemson’s loss, and are one of eight teams nationally with spotless records. Despite losing star running back Mark Walton to a season-ending ankle injury – one of six starters missing due to injury – 11th-ranked UM survived Georgia Tech 25-24.
On its final series against the Yellow Jackets, Miami went 85 yards in 15 plays — helped by Darrell Langham‘s tipped 32-yard catch on fourth-and-10 — in 2:26 to win its 10th game in a row. It’s the longest win streak for Miami since 2003-04.
Miami was No. 8 in Sunday’s Associated Press top 25 poll, and No. 7 in the coaches poll. It’s the highest AP ranking for the Canes since 2013, when they spent two weeks in the polls.
This will be the third week UM has spent in the top 10 since 2010. Miami was in the AP top 10 for three weeks in 2009.
Before that, Miami was a top-10 team in all but nine weeks from 2000-05, and was outside the top-10 in just two polls from 1986-94 (both weeks were in 1994).
The Canes are a long way from “back,” but they’re formidable — and believe they can win.
In addition to Walton, Miami was missing cornerback Dee Delaney (leg), safety Sheldrick Redwine (upper body) and right guard Navaughn Donaldson (ankle sprain). Star receiver Ahmmon Richards (hamstring) didn’t play, and linebacker Michael Pinckney (chest) left in the first half. UM trailed 14-3 early, and after halftime, shook off near-disaster on both a failed onside kick returned for a touchdown and a chop-block penalty that nearly killed the final drive. They survived, and sit alone atop the ACC Coastal.
“It’s like the stars align,” linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “We come in, we make our adjustments, and our coaches do such a great job. … We already know the game is won before we actually come out to the field for the second half. We don’t know how it’s going to happen.”
No. 2 Clemson, No. 5 Washington, No. 8 Washington State and No. 10 Auburn weren’t as fortunate as the Hurricanes. Those teams lost, ensuring Miami would move up in the polls with its win.
The last time Miami faced Syracuse: 2003, its final year in the Big East. In UM’s 14-year run in that conference, its yearly game against Syracuse was seven times a battle of ranked teams. Ranked Miami faced unranked Syracuse four times.
The opposite happened once: in 1997, when Miami lost 33-13 in the Orange Bowl. The following year was the last time Syracuse beat Miami. Longtime fans remember Donovan McNabb’s coronation in the Carrier Dome, and a 66-13 blowout. Miami won the next five after that and leads the all-time series 15-7.
The Orange (4-3, 2-1) lost at home in Week 2 to Middle Tennessee State, clobbered Central Michigan, lost on the road at LSU and North Carolina State, and in the last two weeks, have won at home against Pittsburgh and Clemson by the same 27-24 score.
Coach Dino Babers runs a wide-open, pass-heavy system that Miami’s front seven will try and wreck. The Orange, like Georgia Tech, rack up yards (463 per game, 28th nationally) but are not particularly efficient (5.41 yards per play, 83rd). Other rankings of note: 53rd in points, 108th in yards per carry, 66th in passer rating,
Quarterback Eric Dungey wasn’t at his best in the aforementioned losses — he threw a pick in each one — but put up a quality line against Clemson (20-of-32, 278 yards, three touchdowns). He is a high-volume operator: he leads the ACC in attempts per game (41.9) and is second in yards (297.1) though he is eighth in passer rating (134.58). Dungey is also Syracuse’s leading rusher (386 yards, eight touchdowns on 101 carries).
Wide receiver Steve Ishmael is one of his team’s more impressive players. Fast and physical, he is a 6-foot-2, 209-pound graduate of North Miami Beach High. Ishmael, one of 20 Florida natives on Cuse’s roster, leads the ACC in catches (62) and yards (802, with four touchdowns). He was considered a three-star recruit in 2014 and was heavily recruited by Cincinnati, Illinois and Louisville.
Speedy wideout Ervin Phillips (5-11, 181) scored a 66-yard touchdwn against Clemson and ranks third in the league with 569 yards and three touchdowns on 56 grabs). Junior defensive tackle Chris Slayton gave Clemson’s offensive line trouble, while senior linebacker Zaire Franklin has been a four-year standout (21 tackles for loss in 2015-16; 3.0 this season).
The Orange defense is 51st in yards per play allowed, 62nd in opponent passer rating and 49th in yards per carry allowed. At 24.3 points per game allowed, Syracuse ranks 55th.
Three stat categories that could be critical:
Ball security. Though Miami’s Turnover Chain has made eight appearances, UM has only lost the ball three times — all on interceptions by Malik Rosier. The turnover total That’s tied with Alabama, N.C. State and Wake Forest for the lowest total in the nation. UM ranks 81st in the country in takeaways, an area defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was eager to improve (hence, the implementation of a Cuban link-style reward).
Front seven play. The Hurricanes have played five games while many teams have played seven, so their raw total (17) isn’t at the top. But in sacks per game (3.43) Miami is fifth, and in tackles for loss (8.6) the Canes are third. That seems to be a particularly bad match for Syracuse, who has allowed more sacks per game (3.0) and tackles for loss (6.86) than any ACC team not named Florida State (3.6 and 9.4).
Third downs. Syracuse leads the nation in third-down attempts, which points to a lot of offensive touches, and lack of success on first and second downs. The Orange are 51st in conversion rate (41.79). Defensively, Syracuse has been excellent at getting teams off the field on third down; it ranks third in opponent success rate (23.91). Miami’s offense is 97th on third down (34.48), and was a season-low 2-of-12 last week against Georgia Tech.