USC got off to a rocky start against Syracuse, struggling to the get the ball moving at all. They left the field at halftime with two touchdowns and 230 yards of total offense but they had to work hard for them. Syracuse did manage to get on the board by kicking a field goal in the final ten seconds of the half, but they too have been underwhelming. The play was slow and lethargic for most of the half, reflective the muggy, enveloping atmosphere in MetLife stadium. In the first quarter, the Trojan offensive line played poorly, getting no push against Syracuse’s D-line and even leaving Barkley vulnerable for a sack. This was the first time we really started to see just how significant of a loss Matt Kalil leaving for the NFL was; Barkley has been fortunate to have played behind and experienced O-line for his entire career, but that is no longer the case. The O-line is going to have to step it up if the Trojans are going to dominate in the second half.
But it wasn’t just the O-line that struggled. USC’s running game was no where in the first quarter, and Lane Kiffin didn’t dial up any plays for Barkley to air it out down the field. That could be due to Kiffin not trusting his O-line to give Barkley the time and protection needed to get the ball off, but whatever the reason, it did not happen. The offense only had two first downs in the first quarter, and with kicker Andre Heidari being absent due to a knee injury, USC was forced to go for it on 4th downs and did not often convert. The Trojans again, like against Hawaii, racked up seven careless penalties for 58 yards, including a delay of game on Matt Barkley.
The first quarter surely did not reflect a team that blew out Hawaii in their season opener.
In the second quarter however, USC’s offense started to get it together, sparked by a series of big runs by Curtis McNeal (55 yards in the half) on a drive that culminated in a Barkey-to-Marqise Lee 13-yard touchdown. Silas Redd also ate up some turf (46 yards) and later, Barkley connected with Robert Woods on a spectacular play, in coverage, for a 29-yard touchdown. Walk-on kicker Alex Wood handled both PATs for the Trojans, and was successful on both attempts.
As the second quarter wore on, the Trojans clearly started to wear on the Syracuse defense, and if they can continue to capitalize on that fatigue, USC can blow this one open in the second half.
To Syracuse’s credit, their defense has been all over USC in the first half. LBs Marquis Spruill and Siriki Diabate have been containing USC at the line of scrimmage, recording some big stops and big hits already.
Fortunately for USC though, Syracuse’s offense failed to capitalize on the lethargic play of the Trojans. Nassib did not look like the same quarterback that threw for 470 yards last week, as the Trojan defensive line effectively got pressure on him regularly. DE Morgan Breslin again showed his worth to this young D-line, bringing Nassib down for his second sack of the season. DT George Uko, in the first quarter, put on an impressive display of athleticism when he pressured Nassib into through an interception to LB Dion Bailey. Syracuse has only put up 129 yards of total offense, a testament to how on point the USC defense has been. They have succeeded in moving the Orange off the field and keeping the ball in Barkley’s hands.
Though it’s not the half they wanted, the Trojans just need to be patient and play four whole quarters of football. In the second half, it will be up to Lane Kiffin and the USC offense to call more diverse plays, efficiently and patiently move the offense, and slowly but surely chip away at Syracuse’s defense.