SU vs USC: Analysis of the Offense

Few expected the Syracuse offense to up nearly 600 yards and 41 points like it did in its season opener. However, its performance against USC still left many feeling encouraged. CuseNation.com takes an in-depth look at the Syracuse offense.

Most Syracuse fans would have taken 29 points and 455 yards of total offense before the game. Especially considering they actually outgained USC. Despite those impressive numbers against one of the best teams in the country, there was still a feeling that the Orange left a lot of points on the field. The passing game clicked for portions of the game, and the running game showed flashes. 

The Passing Game

Positives

Ryan Nassib played very well in the second half. The interception he threw early in the half was not his fault. That was a product of poor protection leading to a tipped pass. But Nassib actually finished with more completions and more yards than Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley. On the day, he finished 30-46 for 322 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Nassib showed extreme poise against a relentless pass rush. He showed accuracy down the field for most of the game, and is starting to look like an NFL quarterback. His command of the offense is exceptional. The senior quarterback made excellent reads for most of the game, and helped the Syracuse offense move the ball up and down the field. His footwork in the pocket was very good, sliding and avoiding pressure on a number of occasions. Twice he threw floaters down the field with a perfect amount of touch. He threw it where only his receiver could get it, and hit his target in perfect stride. They were great throws that he could not make last season. 

Marcus Sales stepped up again. Save for a slip on the field on an important Syracuse drive, he did not make any mistakes. On the day, Sales caught eight passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. He gained separation all day and looked like a number one receiver. Sales route running continues to be fantastic, and his hands show no signs of missing football for an entire season. He finished the game with more receiving yards than both Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. In two games, Sales has 19 catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Those are extremely impressive numbers and show the work Sales put in during the offseason. The Trojan corners looked overmatched trying to stay with Sales, as he often had huge separation on his routes. Maybe most impressive is the way he runs his skinny post and quick slant. The post was open all day against USC. Sales makes it look like he's running a deep pattern, then stops on a dime and cuts in towards the middle of the field. It is probably his best route. On the slant, he takes a quick step up the field and immediately turns it in towards the middle while still heading up field. His big frame gives Nassib a perfect target for that route.

Jarrod West was very impressive for the second straight week. He finished with six catches for 94 yards on the day. He was excellent in yards after the catch, frequently making one move and using his speed to get around the would-be tackler. West showed very good speed against the Trojans, and elusiveness in the open field. He runs the curl route very well, and is able to turn and get up field very quickly after making the catch.

Negatives

The pass protection struggled for large portions of the game. Despite Nassib being able to throw for 322 yards, he was pressured all game. Especially having a hard time was right tackle Lou Alexander, who was removed from the game on more than one occasion. He simply could not block the Trojan defensive ends. Both the bull-rush and speed-rush were effective against Alexander, and it made life difficult for Nassib. Protection also broke down up the middle on a few occasions. Macky MacPherson and Ivan Foy both struggled with the USC tackles, and allowed quick penetration up the middle. All three seemed over matched at different points. The biggest concern is Alexander, but the Orange are hoping to have Justin Pugh back which will relegate Alexander to the bench. 

There were several drops in this game. Not really a big issue in week one, it reared its ugly head against USC. Jeremiah Kobena dropped a couple of passes, as did others. You can't make those mistakes against a team with that much more talent. Kobena was so good in week one, seeing him take a step back was frustrating for the Syracuse offense. He ran good routes and found openings in the secondary, but couldn't finish the plays by hauling in well thrown balls. 

Missed opportunities. Syracuse has to start taking advantage of good field position and early penetration into the opponents territory. USC missed a fourth and one at their own 40 on their first possession. It gave Syracuse great field position and a chance to make a statement right away. However, Nassib threw an interception. Other times in the first half they ventured in to Trojan territory and did not take advantage of them. An underthrown pass at the end of the first half prevented a touchdown. At the start of the fourth quarter, the offense had the ball with a chance to take the lead, but went three-and-out and USC never looked back. Poor execution in critical situations is starting to cost this team. 

The Running Game

Positives

Once again, Prince Tyson-Gulley was the best back for Syracuse. He finished with 56 yards on nine carries. A robust 6.2 yards per carry average. Gulley was quick through the hole, ran with power, and showed elusiveness in the open field. On more than one occasion he dragged tacklers for extra yards. His seven yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty. He took a toss, got to the edge quickly, out-ran a USC defender who had the angle, and powered through a tackler to extend the ball over the goal-line. Based on two weeks of action, he should be the starter. He has been more effective with less touches than Jerome Smith.

Negatives

The run blocking as a whole was not very good. They allowed penetration, especially up the middle. MacPherson, Foy, and Zach Chibane looked overmatched against a talented USC defensive line. They got no push to open up holes on inside runs most of the time, and it showed as the Orange only averaged 3.2 yards per carry despite Gulley's contribution.

Jerome Smith showed some flashes, but finished averaging less than three yards per carry on 16 attempts. While the blocking didn't help, he has shown few signs of being a power back that is difficult to tackle. He frequently goes down on first contact, and does not power forward despite his large frame. It has been a disappointing start to the season for Smith.

Overall

Syracuse outgained USC 455 to 445 and put up 29 points against a defense with a lot of NFL talent. Ryan Nassib looked sharp in the second half despite struggling in the first. The Orange also showed resolve, coming back from a 21-3 deficit to have a shot to take the lead. 

The offensive line has to shore up allowing penetration up the middle. It is costing them points and rendering the ground-game ineffective for large stretches. 

The play calling was fantastic in this game. Nathaniel Hackett called a very good game. A quick tempo once again, and a good mix of run and pass. The only issue was the execution at times. 

Missed opportunities plagued the Orange again. They had chances early to make a statement, and a chance late to take the lead. The offense must show more of a killer instinct going forward and take advantage of those opportunities.


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