Unbeaten Syracuse turns its focus toward No. 3 Clemson
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By JOHN KEKIS
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Dino Babers has never experienced this before in seven seasons as a head coach - his Syracuse Orange are undefeated after four games and received votes this week in the AP Top 25.
That's heady territory for a vagabond coach who's toiled for more than three decades at 14 different schools.
"We're excited for that, and it helps us with our goals that we're trying to achieve this season," Babers said. "But just like I told the football team, we're going to take that 4-0 check and we're not going to cash it. We're going to put it in the bank and we've got to start again.
"If we keep having that attitude, when it's all said and done maybe we'll have enough saved up in the piggy bank to go buy something at the end of the season that we'd like."
That would be a bowl game, something that's eluded the program through four straight losing seasons.
Syracuse matched its win total for each of the previous three seasons with a 51-21 victory over Connecticut on Saturday, and the Orange's up-tempo offense is humming, averaging almost 50 points.
Syracuse's other wins have come against Western Michigan (55-42), Wagner (62-10) and Florida State (30-7), which has top talent but is struggling under a first-year coach. WMU has since lost 49-3 to No. 14 Michigan. Wagner has been hammered by Montana State (47-24) and Sacred Heart (41-14) while the Seminoles are back at .500 after beating Northern Illinois.
The competition steps up to the top rung Saturday when the Orange play an Atlantic Coast Conference game at Memorial Stadium against No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC). The Tigers are coming off another dominant performance, holding Georgia Tech's triple option to just 203 yards and notching 10 tackles for loss in a 49-21 victory on the road.
"You're playing a fantastic team at their place and all the advantages go to them," Babers said. "We're going to go, and we're going to show up. We didn't do too well the last time we went down there, so we're going to have to see how much we've grown up."
When Syracuse visited Death Valley two years ago, the Tigers knocked Orange quarterback Eric Dungey out of the game in the first quarter and won 54-0 .
Dungey helped return the favor last year, leading the Orange to a startling 27-24 upset of the second-ranked Tigers in the Carrier Dome, the signature moment of Babers' coaching career.
"Those guys, they just played way harder than us in that game," Clemson wideout Tee Higgins said Monday.
Dungey is operating at a high level in his final season. He leads the Orange in rushing (354 yards with four TDs) and has passed for 763 yards and nine scores with only one interception. Most important, the senior is avoiding big hits that caused injuries, forcing him to miss nine entire games and parts of others. He scored three touchdowns against UConn, and on three of his 16 carries he scooted out of bounds at the last second.
The Orange defense is also doing its job. Syracuse is tied for second nationally with seven interceptions, tied for fifth with No. 1 Alabama and Colorado in red-zone defense (five TDs and a field goal allowed in 10 chances) and tied for 12th with 13 sacks. Also, it is allowing 386 yards and 20 points per game.
"They're playing with a lot of confidence," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "They're experienced on the back end, communicating well, playing with a lot of confidence. Their ends are getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Their linebackers, some new linebackers are there, but they're very athletic, they run around. They understand what they're doing and they fly to the football."
Validation for Babers' system has come with victories over three signature programs - Clemson, Virginia Tech and Florida State. Another on Saturday would do wonders, though, since the first three came at home.
Babers is sticking with the message every coach delivers every week.
"Win or lose, it only counts as one game," Babers said. "We're trying to win this week. I'm sure they're trying to do the same. If you make it more than that, you start to get ahead of yourself, and that's where you start to get in trouble."
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina contributed.
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Updated September 24, 2018