USC vs. Syracuse Match Up


It’s the final week of USC’s three game home stand, and the mighty Walls of Troy have yet to fall.

Matt Barkley and the offense will look to generate more points against Syracuse

Albeit the wins have not come in the fashion that the fans would like, but what’s important to remember is that the Trojans are 2-0, and leading the Pac-12 South.

The Trojans need all the confidence-boosting victories they can get, and going into Arizona State on a three game win streak is exactly what the doctor ordered. That being the case, the Trojans should have no difficulty whatsoever bringing the pain to the Syracuse Orange this week.

Last week’s game against the Utes—and Minnesota, for that matter—should’ve been a blowout (the Trojans had two turnovers in the red zone and a big third down conversion by Marquis Lee was negated by a careless penalty) but since it wasn’t, this is USC’s last chance to get their stuff together before the meat of their schedule.

The Syracuse Orange will brave the Coliseum for the first time in 87 years, and like every other team that faces SC, the Orange plan to hit the Trojans with everything they have, as a win would provide a substantial boost in recruiting.

Unfortunately for them the Orange don’t have much in terms of sheer manpower. The Trojans will look to exploit positional matchups across the board to their benefit and will—hopefully—put lots of points in their final tune-up match of the season. This week instead of focusing so much on the match up, let’s look at what we have learned so far about this USC team, and what they still need to show us.

1. The Trojans have the ability to close out games!

This might not seem like a huge deal, but if you recall SC’s season last year, there were three losses (Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame) that came down to the final minutes of the game.

So far, the Trojans have clung to small leads solely to the credit of the defense. Maybe because of how abysmal the defense was last season it came into this season with no fanfare, lurking in the shadows of the much talked about offense.

The front seven have proven to be menacing, getting after quarterbacks and collapsing pockets like they are going out of style. The secondary is still a work in progress, but with leaders like safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey, they are miles from where they started.

Make no mistake, the talent is present, but Monte Kiffin’s system takes years to learn and our secondary becomes more and more dangerous by the day. Once we start getting into games that matter, the Trojan defense’s ability to force three-and-outs and to keep points off the board will be critical to the team’s success.

2. The Offensive Line is getting better

The O Line struggled a little against Minnesota, but they looked more poised and in control against Utah. That was not supposed to be the case, as Utah brought a bigger, more physical D Line than the Trojans are used to.

However, our O Line dug in and successfully handled its business. We were able to establish a steady running game, and Barkley was only sacked once. There is the continued dominance of left tackle Matt Kalil, who is living up to all of the draft hype in the last 2 weeks. Though there is still some shifting going on—the Guard position competition between Jeremy Galten, Abe Markowitz, Marcus Martin, and Aundrey Walker is still ongoing—they are on the right track to steadily improving with each game.

3. Special Teams will be NICE

Punter Kyle Negrete looked shaky at times against Utah, but he definitely has a leg otherwise. The same goes for place kicker Andre Heidari, whose field goal that almost didn’t make it ended up being the difference in the Trojan’s victory last week.

Former offensive standouts Damian Williams and Stafon Johnson

But beyond those two, the Trojans have been able to utilize a versatile weapon in left tackle Matt Kalil who has already blocked two field goals during his special teams service. Opponent’s kicking units should be afraid. VERY afraid.

4. What’s the deal with the offense?

For two weeks now, the offense has very much so been a tale of two halves. In the first half they come out fiery, poised to control the tempo of the game. In the second, they are the exact opposite of that.

We have a junior quarterback who threw 26 touchdowns last season. We have a dynamic wide receiver corps unrivaled by anyone in the conference. And we have a crew of stable, capable running backs who all have been top recruits.

So what the heck is the problem?

The answer to that question lies with the breed of athlete we’re dealing with. At SC, we consistently recruit the best athletes in the nation, athletes that more often than not never see a player that matches up with them athletically, and make mistakes in high school that don’t cost them because they’re so vastly superior than their competition.

In college, the gap between them and the competition is a lot smaller, and the weight of their mistakes is a lot heavier as a result. The simple truth is that until our players are battle hardened they’ll lack the killer instinct to be able to identify a beaten opponent and close the door on them.

The youth of the team is both a gift and a curse that the leadership at the top needs to utilize and mask at the same time, a tall order to be sure. The Trojans are averaging 21 points a game, which is ludicrous when you consider all of the weapons this team has. They need to figure out what gets them going in the first half, and how to maintain that momentum in the second half.

Most importantly, they need to stop shooting themselves in the foot time and time again because as it stands now, the biggest threat to the Trojans’ ability to close games is the Trojan offense itself.

5. Do the Trojans have their swagger back?

Well, yes and no. In many ways, USC is on its way to being the powerhouse that we know and love (and that lots of others really love to hate).

The defense has steadily worked hard and improved, becoming a unit that resembles Trojan defenses that other teams feared.

The offense isn’t putting up huge numbers and great plays like it used to in a past life, but there are plenty of playmakers that are capable of it.

And most importantly, it seems that mentally the Trojans have shaken off the crippling blow the NCAA dealt them. This season by all reason stands to be one of positive change and progression for the program, which is critical since next season the bowl ban will be lifted.

If the Trojans use this final game of the home stand to take care of business, to put the fear in their Pac-12 South opponents, then I have no doubt that by the end of the season, the Trojans will indeed get all their swagger back.

Kickoff is set for 5:00 pm, which can be viewed under the bright lights of the Coliseum, or for viewers at home, on FX. The Trojans should easily handle this one, but just to be safe, I predict the Trojans will win 35-7.

Let’s all hope they give us the dominant performance that we all know that USC is capable of.

Game on.