On Saturday afternoon, the USC Trojans square off in a neutral site matchup against the Syracuse Orange. Regardless of the odds stacked against them, Syracuse is confident that it can shake off the mistakes from last week to take down the mighty Trojans.
The Orange have lost six straight games dating back to last season and are looking to use this nationally televised contest as a springboard for the 2012 campaign.
The game itself is technically a neutral site affair, but it's being played in East Rutherford N.J., a town that is only approximately four hours from Syracuse, New York.
In its first game of the season, Syracuse overcame a 28-point deficit against Northwestern to take a 41-35 lead with less than three minutes to play. Unfortunately for the Orange, their defense let them down when it mattered most by allowing Northwestern to drive down the field for a 10-play, 75-yard drive resulting in the game-winning touchdown.
Last season, the Trojans and the Orange met in week three, with USC coming out on top, 38-17. Matt Barkley threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns in the game on an impressive 26-of-39 passing.
The speed show was out for USC, with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee totaling 10 receptions and 145 yards receiving with two touchdowns. Syracuse did make a game of it however, scoring first in the contest and keeping the game within two touchdowns late into the third quarter.
SU poses a great playmaker in quarterback Ryan Nassib. Once the Orange fell behind, Nassib went to the air and was extremely effective; completing 45 passes for 482 yards and four touchdowns.
The man who most greatly benefited from Nassib’s performance was senior receiver Marcus Sales. Sales caught 11 passes for 117 yards, including one touchdown. Sales is an extremely gifted slot receiver who excels in early down situations. Against Northwestern, Sales recorded eight receptions on either first or second down and 10-plus yards to go.
The offensive identity of Syracuse in 2012 has been simple; pass and keep passing. Syracuse wants to spread the field and let its weapons work against the high-powered USC Trojans. This is a change from the Syracuse teams in previous years, which begs the question will this spread, possession offense last as the season progresses.
One issue for Syracuse is its inexperienced offensive line. Outside of guard Zach Chilbane, 13 starts, and center Macky MacPherson, 13 starts, the other three projected starters; Sean Hickey, Ivan Foy, and, Lou Alexander all got their first starts against Northwestern last week.
The key matchup for the Syracuse offense will be their O-line against the relentless pass rush of the Trojans. They worked to cycle in multiple fresh units against Hawaii, and expect that trend to continue as they will look to use blitz packages and D-line stunts to free up their pass rushers.
On the injury front for Syracuse, starting left tackle Justin Pugh will miss his second straight game as he rehabs from shoulder surgery. Alec Lemon, Syracuse’s leading receiver from 2011, remains day-to-day with a lower body injury. The good news for Syracuse is that tight end David Stevens has been cleared to play, giving Nassib a strong security blanket to attack the middle of the USC defense.
The Syracuse defense led by coordinator Scott Shafer played well, despite what the final score indicated. The Orange only allowed 337 total yards of offense while forcing one turnover on the night.
The Orange were very effective against the run, only allowing 124 yards on 40 carries, limiting the dual-threat abilities of Kain Colter for most the game. DT Deon Goggins (six tackles against USC last season), LB Durell Eskridge (nine tackles against Northwestern) and NT Eric Crume (6-foot-4 304-lbs) must be difference makers for the Orange on defense.
Coach Doug Marrone is currently in his fourth season at Syracuse, sporting a record of 17-21. He is looking to propel his team to their first bowl game appearance since 2010, and a strong performance against USC, win or lose, would do wonders for their confidence.