Doug Marrone came through the doors in 2008 knowing that his alma mater was in shambles. The once-proud program needed his old-school, tough-love Bronx mentality that made him a successful offensive lineman.
The Orange have been to and won a bowl under Marrone, something fans ate up this past offseason. This season, the expectations are high from fans and minimal from experts.
This week versus USC, Marrone and his scrappy team are taking on a USC program headed in an entirely different direction.
USC has always been a proud program, but within the last decade they have added glitz and glamour with athletes such as Reggie Bush dominating SportsCenter highlight reels.
USC has since been mired down with scandal and controversy. The bright lights of L.A. have been shining down in scrutiny rather than glory as record books were erased and awards returned. USC may not be a crushed program like SMU after the “death penalty,” but their program is on the decline. Their mastermind Pete Carroll fled for the NFL only to leave a controversial Lane Kiffin in his place.
When Marrone and Kiffin stare each other down on Saturday, these two teams will be representing two entirely different types of programs; Syracuse modeled on toughness, defense and conservative offensive consistency and USC based on finesse, speed and explosive play on both sides of the ball.
Interestingly enough, these two teams may have different styles but they have similar teams.
Syracuse and USC are both led by veteran quarterbacks in Ryan Nassib and Matt Barkley, both juniors (Nassib is a junior RS) who play like seniors. Both teams also struggle against the pass— Syracuse is 83rd overall and USC is 70th—and ultimately the key to this game will lie in this realm.
Syracuse’s offensive line has struggled and USC is far too athletic for screens and roll-out passes to be effective all game. Nassib will have to find Van Chew, Alec Lemon and Nick Pravo over the middle and all three will have to hold on to the ball. Antwon Bailey will presumably be most effective on draws, seeing that USC will try to overload an underperforming offensive line.
Finally, if Chew and Nassib can connect on one or two breakout plays, Syracuse’s offense should be able to generate points.
On defense, Phillip Thomas will have to lead the secondary with both superb coverage and improved tackling abilities. USC is known for their athletes’ abilities to make plays after the catch. The defensive line and the linebackers are going to have the most difficult job of the day: pressuring Matt Barkley. USC is coming into the game knowing Syracuse is looking to capitalize on turnovers and create havoc in the backfield.
Watch for Barkley to use quick passes early, but if the linebackers can guard the middle of the field while the defensive line creates pressure, Barkley will be in for a long day.
Ultimately, Syracuse has not began a season 3-0 since 1993 and has not started a season with three straight wins since 1991. Syracuse is not expected to win, as shown by a 16.5-point spread.
However, if the Orange can pull off the upset, Marrone and his team will have the Syracuse Orange back on the national radar and earning the respect this program has lacked for so many years.