What we have at the Coliseum this Saturday is a good old-fashioned trap game for USC.
The oddsmakers, media and fans are not taking Syracuse very seriously. This is a very good, well-coached football team. It has the ability to put up a lot of points and put them up quickly. Even though the Orange may be behind in a game, they are never out of it. If Lane Kiffin's offense tries to sit on a lead, they will soon find out why this is a trap game.
Syracuse comes into the Coliseum with a 2-0 record for the first time since 1999, and it would love nothing better than to leave with its first 3-0 start since 1991. The Trojans' mistake-prone offense must finally step up this weekend against a relatively inexperienced defense, or the Syracuse offense could steal this one away from Matt Barkley and company.
To see how the Orange could do just that, continue reading...
Doug Marrone is in his third year as head coach of the Syracuse Orange, and the team has improved significantly in both of his previous seasons. Here is what Coach Marrone has done:
• 2010 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Region 1 Coach of the Year.
• 2010 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year finalist.
• In 2010, led the Orange to the inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl championship.
• In his second year, Syracuse continued its ascent in the national statistical rankings, including total defense (seventh from 37th), pass defense (10th from 85th), pass efficiency (14th from 113th), scoring defense (13th from 81st), first downs allowed (12th from 27th) and interceptions thrown (13th from 84th).
•The 2009 Orange improved in the national statistical rankings in third-down defense (28th from 117th), first downs allowed (27th from 104th), rush defense (13th from 101st), total defense (37th from 114th), tackles for loss (15th from 104th) and sacks (sixth from 100th).
Syracuse’s points per game average has gone up steadily since head coach Doug Marrone took over the program in 2009. The Orange averaged between 13.8 and 18.1 points per contest from 2005-08. In each of Marrone’s first two seasons, the Orange scoring average was better than 20 points a game, including a 22.2 mark last season, the team’s highest since 2004.
After two games this season, Syracuse is averaging 28.5 points per game compared to the Trojans' 21.0.
Syracuse has a sometime erratic but always dangerous quarterback. Ryan Nassib threw for a career-high 318 yards and three touchdowns, including the winning score to walk-on Mike Acchione, as the Orange held off the feisty Rhode Island Rams 21-14 on Saturday.
Ten days before, Nassib spurred Syracuse to a comeback win against Wake Forest to open the season. Syracuse rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to tie Wake Forest before eventually winning 36-29 in overtime.
In both games, Nassib got off to a slow start but finished strong. After having his first pass intercepted, Nassib went on to match a school record against Rhode Island with 29 completions on 37 attempts, most of them short and mid-range.
He is capable of going long, though. Just before halftime, Nassib engineered a four-play, 82-second drive against the Rams, hitting Van Chew in stride for a 62-yard gain.and then a short hitch to his other wide receiver, Alec Lemon, for a four-yard score.
Against Wake Forest, Nassib completed 20 of 28 passes for 178 yards and three TDs. His completion percentage for the season is .754 (49-of-65), ninth-best on the NCAA’s list of top 100 FBS passers.
Van Chew is one of Nassib's two favorite receivers. He caught eight passes for 134 yards and a touchdown against Rhode Island and four passes for 60 yards and a TD against Wake Forest.
Alec Lemon (pictured) is Nassib's other favorite receiver. He caught 10 passes against Rhode Island for 94 yards and one score and seven for 52 yards against Wake Forest.
The Syracuse run game has been up and down so far this season.
The Rhode Island defense held Orange rushers to just 54 yards in 22 carries, discounting the sack yardage. Nassib was sacked three times for losses of 18 yards.
The Orange did much better in their opener against Wake Forest. They rushed for 124 yards on 28 carries. Antwon Bailey did most of the heavy lugging in both games. Against Wake Forest he ran for 114 yards on 25 carries, but he only managed 43 yards on 13 carries against the Rams.
Unlike USC, the Orange offensive line features plenty of experience. All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh, right tackle Michael Hay, left guard Zack Chibane, right guard Andrew Tiller and center Macky MacPherson have 64 combined starts between them—64 combined starts!
If that’s not experience, then I don’t know what is.
Pugh, Chibane and Tiller have started every game since the beginning of 2010, while Hay has started all but one. MacPherson, a first-year starter, is the newcomer to the group. The unit hopes to continue the trend of producing 1,000-yard rushers.
Syracuse has had at least one back reach that level for three straight years.
Since Doug Marrone took over the program and hired Scott Shafer as defensive coordinator, Syracuse has allowed its opponents to score 81.9 percent of the time in the red zone. However, Orange opponents have only come away with TDs 55.4 percent of the time. This season, Syracuse has allowed just two TDs in seven trips by its opponents into the red zone.
Under Shafer, the Orange defense has held its opponent to less than 100 yards rushing 10 times, and Orange are 8-2 in those games, including its 36-29 season-opening victory over Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons managed just 80 yards rushing on 43 attempts (1.9 average). The Orange have won five straight when holding opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground.
• The Orange are 9-2 under Marrone when holding their opponent to less than 300 yards of total offense.
• Syracuse is 10-2 under Marrone when holding its opponent to less than 20 points.
Scott Shafer's defense returned only five starters in 2011. Seven players have made their first career starts on defense this season.
Five players—defensive tackle Jay Bromley, nose tackle Deon Goggins, linebackers Dan Vaughan and Dyshawn Davis and cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson—made their first collegiate start against Wake Forest on Sept. 1. Two more first-time starters, defensive end Torrey Ball and corner Keon Lynn, got the call against Rhode Island due to injuries.
The Orange played without stalwart defensive end Chandler Jones (No. 99, pictured) and safety Olando Fisher, both seniors, and junior cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson. All are out with injuries. But should Chandler Jones return to the lineup this weekend, Barkley and the offensive line will have their hands full.
No. 99 is a game-changer.
Despite their relative lack of experience, the seven new starters have combined for 48 tackles through two games, 10.5 of the defense’s 17.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Vaughan, Davis and Goggins lead the newcomers with 11 tackles apiece, tied for the third-most on the team.
The Orange are third in the Big East in sacks per game (3.0). They registered three sacks against Wake Forest and recorded three more in the victory against Rhode Island. Individually, rookie linebacker Dyshawn Davis leads the Orange with two sacks.
UPDATE: The latest word is that Chandler Jones and Olando Fisher will NOT be available for Saturday's game. Ri'Shard Anderson is questionable.
Free safety Phillip Thomas ranks second in the Big East and tied for third in the nation with 1.00 interceptions per game. More importantly, he is a tackling machine.
Against Wake Forest, Thomas made five tackles, including three solo stops and 0.5 for a loss of yards. Against Rhode Island, he had a career-high two interceptions and made four solo tackles, and he was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Rams.
As a sophomore in 2010, Thomas started all 13 games. He ranked ninth among all Big East defenders with 7.1 tackles per game. At Washington, Thomas posted a career-best 12 tackles, including 10 solo and one for a loss. Altogether, Thomas was credited with 58 tackles and 34 assists in 2010.
Against Rhode Island, Antwon Bailey and Prince-Tyson Gulley averaged about three yards per carry and never broke the big play. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett decided to throw the ball 37 times.
Although Ryan Nassib completed 29 of those attempts for 318 yards and three TDs, Syracuse, like USC in its first game against Minnesota, is going to need more balance. Rhode Island out-possessed the Orange by over four minutes, 32:04 to 27:56.
This could be the key to the game for USC. If that front seven can clog up the Orange running game, then the defense can tee off on Nassib. But the Trojan secondary must play much, much better than they have in the first two games.
Once Nassib gets started and gets into a groove, he is hard to stop.
Lane Kiffin needs to figure out Monte Kiffin's defense if he really wants to win with a comfortable margin and give his first team some much-needed rest. Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer basically runs a Cover 1 or a Cover 2 defense, much like Monte Kiffin.
Syracuse has the same problem with it as the Trojans. The corners play man-to-man with safety help over the top. Typically that means Robert Woods will be double-covered. That should leave the mid-range pass open since Shafer likes to blitz one of his linebackers, especially on a 3rd-and-long. The linebackers are good, but they are young and inexperienced and sometimes blow coverage.
Lane Kiffin needs to take advantage of this with Marqise Lee down the middle or isolate a running back or tight end on a linebacker.