4 Reasons Syracuse Has A Prayer Against USC

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The Syracuse Orange will take on the now-No. 2 USC Trojans this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in a David vs. Goliath showdown at MetLife Stadium. Obviously, pass-happy USC quarterback and 2012 Heisman favorite Matt Barkley is the monster in most Syracuse fans’ nightmares this week. Throw WR Marqise Lee (who had a 75-yard reception for a touchdown on the first play of the Trojans’ game against Hawaii last week) and PSU transfer/power RB Silas Redd into the mix, and you’ve got the SU faithful worried.

The Syracuse defense has got its work cut out for itself on Saturday, but if there’s any chance at an SU upset, its offense will need to shine. Read on for a hopelessly optimistic fan’s take on the Orange’s keys to an improbable (but not impossible!) victory on Saturday in the Meadowlands.

The O-Line
Despite missing veteran left tackle Justin Pugh due to injury last week, the line did a more than decent job of protecting quarterback Ryan Nassib from the Northwestern pass rush. Nassib’s record-breaking performance (which earned him Big East Player of the Week honors) – completing 45 of 66 for 482 yards passing – could not have been possible without a strong showing by the guys in front. The mental mistakes from last week (i.e., a couple of false starts from junior college transfer RT Lou Alexander) can be fixed in practice, and fortunately the line looked stable. If strength and conditioning were the issue, we’d have more to worry about, but the productive off-season workouts have paid off with beefed-up bodies.

The experience of junior center Macky MacPherson and senior star left guard Zach Chibane is key. Nassib will need time to get accurate throws off to his receivers as they tiptoe around a speedy USC secondary that features senior safeties T.J. McDonald (an All-American) and Jawanza Starling. SU’s running game, anchored by junior Jerome Smith, will need to find big holes to get more than the customary three-or-four-yard gains we’re all used to. USC’s front seven is solid, but young; injured senior DE Wes Horton is out, and last week was the first game experience for five of the seven, including freshman DT Leonard Williams, who had an impressive breakout performance against Hawaii. If we can get in their heads and win the grueling battle in the trenches, Nassib can connect more on the long bomb and Smith and Gulley can get us over the dreaded third-down hump, leading to more effective drives against a talented Trojan defense.

Tight Ends
The Nate Hackett offense of the past two seasons has been pretty tight end-friendly – it’s hard not to be when you’ve got a weapon like Nick Provo (now-graduated) on your hands. The widely recognized ‘second-coming’ of Provo comes in the form of junior tight end Beckett Wales, someone who was arguably underutilized against Northwestern. With receivers Alec Lemon and Adrian Flemming questionable for Saturday due to injuries, look for Wales and senior TE David Stevens to make a splash against the USC secondary. If Nassib’s arm is hot again, their size and speed off of short routes could be the perfect offensive antidote we need to power through the defense that held Hawaii to just ten points last week.

The Swing Pass
RBs Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith have each got the power to create problems for the USC defense. While the patented Delone Carter approach – run straight up the middle, take no prisoners – may not work against a bullish defensive line this week, SU can still utilize the depth and scoring potential of its runners by getting the swing pass off before the blitz comes through, making for nice gains along the sideline. [Side note: this tactic will only work if we put the fundamental errors from last week to rest - turnovers could very well be the difference between hanging with the California boys through the end and falling victim to a Trojan slaughtering on Saturday. In other words, Jerome Smith: hold on tight.]

Special Teams Play
With kickoffs starting from the 35-yard line and the new touchback rule bringing the ball all the way to the 25, true freshman Ryan Norton’s long, powerful kicks will be the first key to pinning the USC offense as far back as possible. Punter Jonathan Fisher averaged 52 yards per punt last week, earning praise from Doug Marrone, who was quoted in the Syracuse Post-Standard as saying: “We had very, very good kicks. We had good hang. We kicked it very, very deep. What happened was we lost our contain.”

And though Ross Krautman did miss a field goal attempt against Northwestern – and a crucial one, at that – he is one of the most underappreciated players on the ‘Cuse offense. Krautman’s older brother, Ricky, used to kick here back in the Coach P days, and I sat next to him at the season opener in Akron a couple of years ago. Never have I ever seen someone in the stands get so anxious whenever we were on the verge of kicking off or attempting a field goal or extra point.

If Ross is anything like the elder Krautman, he’s feeling the pressure. You wouldn’t know it, though; his consistency is one of those things that you always forget about until it’s not there. You can’t let Nassib and the wideouts get all the praise on offense without giving this kid some credit. Let’s hope we can leave the drives that end in field goals at home Saturday, and pray that he’ll just be stuck with frequent extra points to cap off a flurry of touchdowns. As we saw last week, every point counts.

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