The Syracuse offense came out as spot-on as can be in terms of efficiency. Quarterback Ryan Nassib took what the aggressive Southern California defense gave him, and he failed to toss an incompletion on the initial drive. As a result, the offense was able to put up three points.
The defensive effort was spotty early on, meaning that the three levels of the unit were not able to get on the same page. It looked as if the lack of a pass-rush would allow SC's Matt Barkley to have his way with the secondary all night. It ended up being the case on a methodical drive that ended with a short score in the flat on a broken coverage.
The Trojans dominated from that point on, cruising to a 17-3 halftime lead fueled by more Barkley precision. The SC captain continued to shred the SU secondary early in the third quarter, adding seven points to the lead. The Orange then held momentum and narrowed the gap to 14 once again on a double-pass from Nassib to Alec Lemon – who launched the ball 28 yards in the air to an adjusting Van Chew in the end zone. The defense made a stand soon after, but Barkley went over-the-top on a 43-yard dime to Marqis Lee to put the game away.
Tale of the Tape
Upon further review of the game, some of the same themes stood out for the Orange. The pass-rush was a flat-out problem on Saturday. Barkley took his time in the pocket on the way to finding seven different receivers on the evening. The only time the pressure got to him was on a few Mikhail Marinovich efforts to go along with a surge from Torrey Ball, who was responsible for the lone sack the Orange produced. Otherwise, the linebackers and safeties had to blitz, opening up more holes down the field. It should be noted that the team was stout against the run all night.
The Syracuse offense moved the ball effectively throughout the game, though it often stalled short of the end zone. Nassib was a model of efficiency -- connecting on his first 11 passes – but the team abandoned the running game early once they faced anything more than a marginal deficit. During the best drive of the game capped by the trick-play touchdown to Chew, the play-calling was balanced and it kept the USC defenders honest.
The difference in the game initially looked to be the Syracuse secondary's inability to run with the Southern Cal wideouts, but the tape review showed that the defensive line's inability to generate a consistent pass-rush against an elite college QB proved to be most responsible. Injuries made the task that much more difficult to complete considering the secondary was hit the hardest – forcing younger players in the defensive backfield into the mix.
The team has solid talent on both sides of the ball, but the matchup battle is one weakness that ‘Cuse needs to re-visit on both sides of the ball. The injuries will heal, but a defensive leader needs to emerge at the back-end to keep the young unit from getting gashed again. To aid in the effort, the D-line must generate pressure on their own, especially with Toledo and standout WR Eric Page on the horizon. The offense is almost there, but the end result of drives needs to be in the end zone more times than not once the unit approaches scoring territory.