Gameday Preview: USC vs. Syracuse


Composition by Reign of Troy staff. Images via Jim O’Conner, Rich Barnes and Jason Watson of US PRESSWIRE.

USC Trojans vs. Syracuse Orange

Metlife Stadium | The Meadowlands12:30 PM Pacific | ABCAll-time Series: USC 3-0-0Last meeting: USC 38, Syracuse 17 in 2011

The Trojans head east in what could be a showcase game in hopes of wooing voters both in the polls and for on-field awards, as they play in the eastern time zone for the first time in four years. Meeting USC in New Jersey is a tough Syracuse team fresh off of a 1-point heartbreaking loss to Northwestern in their season opener, despite coming back from a 22-point third quarter deficit. Quarterback Ryan Nassib leads the Orange on offense and he’ll give USC all they can handle, while Heisman candidate Matt Barkley will be looking to improve on his four touchdown performance from a week ago. Can the Trojans keep plodding along  and move closer to a run at the BCS title or is Syracuse standing in the way and ready to pull an upset? We’ll find out, beginning at 12:30pm Pacific.

Gameday links

When Syracuse has the ball…

The Syrcause offense is built around fifth year senior Ryan Nassib, who just may be the best quarterback in the Big East. Nassib had a big day for the Orange in their season opening loss to Northwestern, throwing for 470 yards and four touchdowns. Nassib is quite the gamer for Syracuse, as the quarterback has led the Orange to seven wins when either tied or trailing in the fourth quarter, including four last season, with two coming in overtime. He seems to thrive in close games, and would have made it eight comebacks on Saturday, if it wasn’t for Northwestern’s game-winning touchdown pass with just 44 seconds left. Nassib could be the best quarterback USC will face in the first half of the season, and Syracuse’s use of the pro-set offense featuring heavy use of tight ends offers a solid preview of Stanford’s offense, which is next on the docket for the Trojans. For more on the Syracuse offense, click here.

USC’s defense really turned a lot of heads last week despite facing an offense in the midst of learning Norm Chow’s offense. Even though Lamar Dawson and Wes Horton never saw the field due to injuries, Anthony Sarao and Morgan Breslin impressed in their USC debuts and should only progress going into week 2. In terms of injuries this week, Dawson, Horton and Dion Bailey are all considered questionable, since Lane Kiffin is no longer discussing injuries to the media. Should Bailey and Dawson sit, Hayes Pullard would start in the middle, while Sarao and Tony Burnett would likely get the starts on the outside. In the USC secondary, this is a huge test, as Nassib will force T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey to play attentively.

Syracuse’s Projected Offensive StartersWR Alec Lemon #15LT Sean Hickey #60LG Zack Chibane #75C Macky MacPherson #59RG Ivan Foy #72RT Lou Alexander #77TE Beckett Wales #85WR Marcus Sales #5QB Ryan Nassib #12HB Jerome Smith #45FB Clay Cleveland #31

USC’s Projected Defensive StartersDE J.R. Tavai #58DT George Uko #90NT Antwaun Woods #98DE Morgan Breslin #91WLB Hayes Pullard #10MLB Lamar Dawson #55SLB Dion Bailey #18CB Nickell Robey #21SS Jawanza Starling #29FS T.J. McDonald #7CB Anthony Brown #16

When USC has the ball…

The USC offense showed signs of brilliance against Hawaii, along with signs that they still have a long way to go before achieving the perfection that Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and company demand of themselves. Despite scoring five touchdowns against Hawaii, the offense needs to be able to improve the running game, which totaled just 81 yards last week. Kiffin has come out and said that the Trojans will mix up the carries more between Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd, and that in order for the Trojans to improve, they’ll need more out of the offensive line. Barkley wasn’t sacked, but the passing game has room for improvement despite the spectacular plays from Marqise Lee last week, as Lee and Woods combined to drop five passes vs. Hawaii.

Syracuse followed up a tremendous defensive year in 2010 by giving up 258 yards per game through the air in 2011, and a smidgen under 30 points. Against Northwestern, the Orange gave up 42 points, but only 28 of that is on the defense, considering that the Wildcats scored on defense and special teams. Syracuse held Northwestern to just 21 first downs, and just 3.1 yards per carry. The problem for the defense however, is that when Northwestern needed to score in the final minute, they did. Syracuse didn’t help matters by committing costly penalties including a roughing the passer that prevented a 4th and six with under a minute left. Syracuse returns five starters on defense and while their secondary is more athletic than it was a year ago, none of the Orange defensive backs were highly rated coming out high school, including Shamark Thomas who had 67 tackles as a junior in 2011. Despite not starting in the season opener, defensive back Durell Eskridge led the Orange in tackles with nine, and reserve linebacker Dan Vaughan had two sacks to lead the team.

USC’s Projected Offensive StartersWR Robert Woods #2TE Xavier Grimble #86 or Randall Telfer #82LT Aundrey Walker #70LG Marcus Martin #66C Khaled Holmes #78RG John Martinez #59RT Kevin Graf #77WR Marqise Lee #9QB Matt Barkley #7RB Curtis McNeal #22 or Silas Redd #25FB Soma Vainuku #31

Syracuse’s Projected Defensive StartersDE Markus Pierce-Brewster #10DT Jay Bromley #96NT Deon Goggins #13DE Brandon Sharpe #91WLB Dyshawn Davis #35MLB Siriki Diabate #18SLB Marquis Spruill #11CB Brandon Reddish #4SS Shamarko Thomas #21FS Jeremi Wilkes #28CB Ri’Shard Anderson #9

Injury Report

  • Syracuse’s top receiver, Alec Lemon, is probable. He missed the season opener against Northwestern last week.
  • Out for Syracuse are OL Justin Pugh, WR Adrian Flemming and DE John Raymond. TE David Stevens will play.
  • USC linebackers Dion Bailey and Lamar Dawson are questionable, though they could lean closer to probable. Bailey was seen on crutches after the Hawaii game, and Dawson has now had a few weeks to rest a bum ankle.
  • USC kicker Andre Heidari’s status is unknown. The sophomore was seen on the USC campus on Thursday afternoon walking with crutches, raising the question whether or not he made the trip to New Jersey. In any case, Chris McMahon is prepared to play in place of Heidari should he get the call.
  • Running back D.J. Morgan is out for USC and he’ll be out 3 to 4 weeks, while CB Torin Harris is back in the mix and ready to go.

Game Notes

  • USC is 2-1 in the state of New Jersey, having played in three Kickoff Classics at the Meadowlands. The last trip was in 2000 when Carson Palmer led the Trojans to a 29-5 win over Penn State.
  • This is USC’s first of two road games at NFL venues this year, with the looming October 13th game vs. Washington being played at CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks. USC has not lost a game at an NFL venue since the 1996 Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, and have won four straight. The last time USC played in an NFL venue(the 2005 Orange Bowl), they won a National Title.
  • The last USC road game in the eastern time zone was in 2008 at Virginia. USC won 52-7 and Mark Sanchez threw three touchdowns. Sanchez now plays for the Jets, who play their games at MetLife Stadium.
  • Syracuse offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is the son of former USC head coach Paul Hackett, who was at the helm in the Trojans’ 2000 trip to the Meadowlands.
  • This is the fourth contest USC has had with Syracuse, and none of them have been at the Carrier Dome. After today, USC will have played two games vs. Syracuse at the Coliseum, and two at the Meadowlands, as in 1990 the teams met for the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium, the predecessor to MetLife Stadium.
  • Syracuse will wear special jerseys designed to commemorate the legendary Ernie Davis, the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner who died of leukemia before ever playing a down in the NFL.