Future NFL draft picks helped Syracuse push Clemson to the brink

Sep 15, 2018; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange defensive lineman Kendall Coleman (55) celebrates a defensive play with defensive lineman Chris Slayton (95) against the Florida State Seminoles during the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Scouts know all about Clemson's star-studded DL, but won't forget flashes by the Orange's Kendall Coleman, Chris Slayton

By now it is common knowledge among NFL draft enthusiasts that this year is loaded with talented defensive linemen.

No program is more blessed with future pros up front than the Clemson Tigers, whose starting four of Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant each rank among my personal top 32 overall prospects in the country.

In a microcosm of the entire game, however, it was an underrated duo from the 'Cuse defensive line that outplayed the Tigers' all-stars, helping previously undefeated Syracuse nearly pull off an Earth-shaking upset of No. 3 Clemson, just as Dino Babers' team did a year ago in the Carrier Dome.

While scouts were no doubt focusing on the many talented defensive linemen featured in this game, the top storyline was clearly at quarterback where many were left questioning Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney's decision to bench senior Kelly Bryant in favor of true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a gamble that looks even riskier after Bryant announced his decision to transfer (rather than compete) in light of the demotion and Lawrence suffering a concussion in the second quarter which knocked him out of the game.

Clemson suddenly found itself asking its second true freshman - Chase Brice - to rally the troops.

Fortunately for Swinney and the passionate Clemson crowd, Brice did just enough, completing 7 of 13 passes for 83 yards as Clemson leaned heavily on sophomore running back Travis Etienne and ultimately prevailed 27-23.

The 5-10, 200 pound Etienne was Clemson's savior, rushing for 203 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, nearly twice his previous career high of 16.

His clutch performance and Clemson's future at quarterback will understandably dominate the conversation around Clemson and its quest to return to the playoffs, but for scouts, the "bigger" story in this game was along the line of scrimmage.

Lined up much of the day against three-time All-ACC left tackle Mitch Hyatt, Syracuse redshirt junior Kendall Coleman recorded two sacks and was in on a handful of other tackles, showing an impressive initial burst and core flexibility to get upfield, turn the corner and close.

Coleman, who entered the game leading the Orange with five tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with four sacks, appears longer and leaner than his 6-3, 265 pounds, showing good hand strength to rip ball-carriers to the ground to go along with vines for arms.

Coleman had previously stood this season.

Coleman is best suited to the outside. At 6-4, 320 pounds, his senior teammate, Slayton possesses the frame and strength to play up and down the defensive line, projecting best as a two-gap block-eater.

Now in his fourth season as a starter, Slayton is Syracuse's active career leader in tackles for loss (26) and forced fumbles (four) and the surprising combination of power and athleticism (given his frame) which has helped accomplish that production was on display Saturday against Clemson, when he too enjoyed a splashy tackle for loss.

As is often the case, Ferrell and Wilkins were the most active for the victorious Tigers.

Each collected at least one tackle for loss in the second half (and were in on others) after Clemson failed to sack Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey once in the first half, helping the Orange jump out to an early lead they would retain until the final 40 seconds of the game.

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