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USC Football: Syracuse Game Preview and Analysis

Andrew Parrone |
September 15, 2011 | 2:36 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

The Trojans look to go to 3-0 against the Orange. (McKenzie Carlile/Neon Tommy)
The Trojans look to go to 3-0 against the Orange. (McKenzie Carlile/Neon Tommy)
-- For complete coverage of Saturday's USC-Syracuse gameclick on our Game Week link or follow us on Twitter. --

So far, so good.

While USC enters the final game of its homestand far from dominant, the fact that the young Trojans remain undefeated going into Saturday's matchup against Syracuse is definitely a positive.

While both teams enter the matchup at 2-0, to call either of those starts impressive would be a mistake.

What USC has lacked in consistent production they have more than made up for with late game theatrics. The Trojans went down to the wire again against the Utes, only to block the potential game-tying kick and return it for a touchdown, claiming a 23-14 victory.

After Syracuse's thrilling comeback in their season opener against Wake Forest, the Orange clearly took a step back and were pushed to the limit by FCS-member Rhode Island, edging the Rams 21-14.

What to Look for:

There’s not a lot of history between the Trojans and the Orange, with USC owning a 2-0 mark all-time. But there are a couple interesting names on the opposing sideline.

SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross earned his stripes under former Trojan AD Mike Garrett, and helped arrange the series several years ago with the now departed Heisman winner. Syracuse DE Mikhail Marinovich is a San Clemente native, and his half-brother Todd enjoyed quite the roller coaster ride as USC's starting quarterback over two decades ago.

And offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is the son of former USC boss Paul Hackett. Some longtime fans might need a couple seconds to breath easily and erase that name from their memories.

With top-25 Arizona State looming on the horizon just a week away, the only thing the Trojans need to focus on is playing well for the entire game. The time to put all the pieces together has come.

USC RB Marc Tyler (Shotgun Spratling)
USC RB Marc Tyler (Shotgun Spratling)
When USC is on Offense:

Few people were surprised that RB Marc Tyler (left) returned to the field so quickly, but you would be kidding yourself if you thought he would make such a big impact right off the bat. After battering his way to 113 yards against Utah, he can expect to hear his number 26 called early and often the rest of the way out, starting this week. 

Syracuse has been fairly effective against the run in the season's early going. But let’s be honest: Wake Forest and Rhode Island are not of the same caliber as USC.

And the Orange haven't faced a lineman quite like Matt Kalil yet. The junior has anchored the left tackle spot nearly flawlessly so far. Oh yeah, and he saved the game last week with his last-second FG block.

The guard spots continue to be a revolving door for the Trojans. True freshmen Aundrey Walker and Marcus Martin were both given stabs at the jobs in practice this week, and Abe Markowitz's name keeps coming up in the conversation as well. If anyone could lock those spots down, it would be huge for the rest of the offense.

The Trojans can expect to see a myriad of blitzes from the Orange linebackers. Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis have already combined for 3.5 sacks on the year, and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer will find creative ways to unleash them on Matt Barkley.

But as we all know, blitzing will backfire if the quarterback has a bunch of open targets. And Barkley should be able to exploit the coverage as long as he hits his outlet receivers and quick reads. He is completing over 70-percent of his passes and averaging nearly 300 yards passing a game. 

While the Syracuse corners are inexperienced, the safety tandem of Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas (no relation) is productive. Phillip came up with two picks last week, and Shamarko is the leading tackler in the early going.

But the lack of established corners definitely presents a big problem for Syracuse, because even the best corners have trouble with USC WR Robert Woods.  He posted another 100-yard performance against the Utes, and should find himself in a few single-coverage matchups on Saturday. A third straight 100-yard day for Woods is a near-lock.

McKenzie Carlile
McKenzie Carlile
When Syracuse is on Offense:

While 'Cuse has had a pretty underwhelming offense in recent years, they appear to be opening things up just a little bit.

QB Ryan Nassib is averaging just under 250 yards passing a game, and has six touchdowns to just one interception. While his stats are hardly eye-popping, the efficiency in achieving these numbers is impressive.

Nassib will be staring down a few new faces in the Trojans' secondary. Lane Kiffin vowed to get more players in the game to keep defensive backs T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey fresh, so ballhawk Drew McAllister and Anthony Brown will help try and contain Orange receivers Alec Lemon and Van Chew.

Syracuse has been hit-or-miss running the ball, with Antwon Bailey receiving the vast majority of those carries. The Orange do have a very experienced offensive line to run behind, with four returning starters from last season. Head coach Doug Marrone is a former Orange lineman and does a good job with this group.

They are going to have their hands full with USC's front seven, who were quiet early in last week's game before harassing Utah QB Jordan Wynn most of the second half. Senior DT DaJohn Harris has quietly been a solid playmaker on the interior. And count on DE Devon Kennard to come up with his first sack of the year.

Young linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard have looked very impressive so far, and appear to have a bright future as potential four-year starters on the edge. Pullard in particular has risen above expectations and is leading the team in tackles, just ahead of LB Chris Galippo. 


USC may be coming off a pair of lackluster showings, but that has largely been the result of inexperience, not a lack of talent. As this talent develops over the 2011 season, the mistakes are going to slowly disappear.

The offense in particular should be in for a good game. There were several points in last week's game where it appeared the Trojans were about to blow the game wide open, but silly penalties and turnovers ruined the opportunities. These will not be a problem this week.

In their first impressive victory of the year, USC will defeat Syracuse 31-13. Matt Barkley will throw for three more scores, and a couple of the dropped interceptions from last week will actually end up in Trojan hands. 

While far from a finished product, USC is slowly developing the pieces to a championship-caliber team. Convincingly beating a team like Syracuse is an important part of that process.


Reach Andrew Parrone by email.

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