USC Football Behind Enemy Lines- Q&A With Syracuse Blogger
After falling behind 35-13, Syracuse senior quarterback Ryan Nassib threw four consecutive touchdowns to give the Orange a late, 41-35 lead. The lead, however, would be short-lived and the comeback would fall short, as Northwestern scored the game-winning touchdown with 58 seconds remaining. 42-41, Northwestern. Just like that, Syracuse was 0-1.
In anticipation of Saturday’s Syracuse-USC affair at MetLife Stadium Saturday, Sean Keeley, a Syracuse Orange blogger for SB Nation’s Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician joined us for an instructive Q&A session.
1. What is the biggest problem that the Orange need to address after their 42-41 loss to Northwestern?
Sean Keeley: Quite simply, mental mistakes. Syracuse should have won that game walking away. Instead, a litany of mental errors, gaffes and penalties put them in the position they eventually ended up in. We appreciate Doug Marrone and what he’s been able to do with the program, but these mental miscues remain surprising and happen way too often for a program trying to take the next step.
2. What changes were made that allowed Syracuse to come back from a 35-13 third-quarter deficit last week, and would the team be able to run a similar game plan if it was to fall behind early against USC?
Keeley: Last year, Syracuse ran a fairly vanilla offense that tried to rely too much on a mediocre running game. This year, the Orange recognize that the running game isn’t much better and are instead focusing the offense around QB Ryan Nassib. They briefly detoured back into 2011’s offense in the 2nd quarter and early 3rd quarter, which is when Northwestern took over. As soon as they opened things up and let Nassib control the offense through the air, they made their comeback. A lot of whether or not he can do it again against USC depends on our offensive line giving him the time and receivers like Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon (if he plays) making plays with the ball after the catch.
Keeley: I’m very curious to see if our defensive line is able to compete with the USC offensive line and get to Matt Barkley. I think it’s a very underrated unit and even if they can’t break through, they seem capable of making space for Marquis Spruill, Dyshawn Davis, Dan Vaughan and the rest of the linebacking corp. There are a lot of new faces on the DL a year removed from Chandler Jones. It’s not a better line talent-wise, but it might be a better line across the board.
Of course, just like last year, our defensive secondary vs. Matt Barkley and USC’s receivers scares the pants off of me.
4. In what aspect has this Syracuse team changed the most from last year’s squad that lost 38-17 to USC?
Keeley: I think you’ll notice the change most on offense, if we get a chance to show it off. The offense is much more robust, open and full of weapons. With TE David Stevens coming back, he joins Beckett Wales at Nassib’s favorite spot to throw to. Marcus Sales has reemerged as a star (he missed last year), and he could be joined by our best receiver, Alec Lemon, who is recovering from an injury. The backfield isn’t all-star but it has a lot of moving parts. Prince-Tyson Gulley emerged last week and freshman Ashton Broyld is a wild card.
5. Senior QB Ryan Nassib was named the Big East Player of the Week after a monstrous passing performance against Northwestern. What do you think the biggest challenge will be for Nassib in keeping up with last week’s success against the Trojan defense?
Keeley: Well the secret’s out, first of all, that Nassib is capable of putting up big numbers. In general, we’re stepping up in talent level, so it will be interesting to see if Nassib has time to make throws and how he handles the bubble screen and flat pass options. That’s his bread and butter and my guess is that USC will have that on lockdown. Can Nassib make the big play? That’s the big question and we’re gonna need him to answer it (in the affirmative) if we’ve got any chance.
Keeley: They won’t. Let’s be honest. I know sophomore Brandon Reddish is going to be looking for some payback. He got absolutely burned by Marqise Lee last year and don’t think for a second he’s forgotten. On the other side, look for Ri’Shard Anderson and Keon Lyn, neither of whom had great days last year either. The one X-Factor is hard-hitting safety Shamarko Thomas, who is head and shoulders the best athlete in our secondary. If anyone is going to put a licking on a USC receiver, it’s him.
7. Who do you think are the X-factors on offense and defense for Syracuse to compete in this game?
Keeley: On offense, I’m going with the offensive line. They’ve steadily improved over the last couple seasons and put together a solid game last week, even without All-Big East player Justin Pugh. If they can keep the USC defenders out of Ryan Nassib’s hair and give him a chance to make things happen, it’s the best chance we’ve got.
Defensively, I’m going with the linebackers. I think the defensive line will do well, and I don’t know what the secondary can really do, so it’s up to the LBs to disrupt Barkley, shut down the run game and provide help in the passing defense.
8. Do you think the crowd or location of the game will have any major effect on USC despite MetLife Stadium being called a “neutral site”?
Keeley: I’m a little suspect of the crowd for this one. There’s been multiple Groupons in the weeks leading up, which makes me think attendance will be soft. I do expect a solid Syracuse contingent but it won’t be what it would have been in the Dome, obviously. Given the turf and the lack of the old Meadowlands wind you used to get at Giants Stadium, I don’t see too many issues to look out for.
9. What is your prediction for what will happen on Saturday? And what do you think the final score will be?
Keeley: I’ll keep hoping for a miracle, but all I can really expect is that Syracuse will make strides over last season and at least keep this one interesting for a half. I’m gonna go with USC winning 38-24. Even though SU will likely come out of the game 0-2, I’d like to be able to look back at this game and say that we saw the seeds of improvement that propelled us to a decent overall season.
Special thanks to Sean Keeley for his time and insight.
Here's last year's Q&A with Sean Keeley and fellow Syracuse writer Brent Axe.