Ryan Nassib through for over 300 yards again, but it wasn't good enough.
The defense held Matt Barkley under 200 yards passing, but even that wasn't good enough.
No matter how you look at it, SU fell 42-29 – but it could have been good enough. Some things went right and several things went wrong in the defeat, and we checked the tape to provide more answers than were originally considered.
Ryan Nassib got off to a shaky start on Saturday, and the up-tempo offense seemed to only frustrate him. His interception on The Opening drive was purely on him, though he was pressured on the play. The redshirt-senior forced the ball and didn't quite recover until a few series' later. But when he finally started to get settled, the Nassib that went off last week against Northwestern was back. He first showed this while making an audible at the line of scrimmage in order to isolate Jarrod West on the outside, which eventually led to a pass interference call as we saw several times last week. The drive would stall, but the movement it created carried over to the end of the second quarter, when Nassib engineered a solid two-minute drive to get Syracuse on the board before the break.
In the second-half, Nassib controlled the pace with that high-tempo look while delivering accurate balls all over the yard. He leaned on West and Marcus Sales when it counted most, and nearly brought SU back for the second-straight week. The NCAA's leading passer finished with 322 yards and a pair of touchdowns while spreading the ball to eight different targets. Just as he did against NU in the opener, he got more comfortable as the game went on.
In the backfield, both Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley displayed some good qualities. Though neither will be the sole bell-cow of the run game, they combined for over 100 yards and a score on 25 carries. Smith was again featured between the tackles, in which he ran hard and finished with authority – even when the game was out of reach. Gulley, however, again looked like he was slightly more effective, equaling Smith's inside prowess and pairing it with a certain combination of elusiveness and speed in the open field. He looked especially tough on an 8-yard score in the third quarter to pull SU within five points of USC. Maybe just as important, both Smith and Gulley looked much better as blockers in blit- pickup to help protect Nassib. Ashton Broyld again had some touches, and again looked to be a bit too antsy to get to the outside. If he is to remain at running back for the near future, the freshman should look to use his 230-plus pound frame to his advantage with power.
On the outside, Sales again led the way. The senior is proving that he can perform on a consistent basis, registering a second-straight 100-yard game. He battled the dropsies early on again, but came on late and allowed Nassib to lean on him in tough times. Though he also has a pair of drops, West was also impressive, particularly after the catch. His ball skills and awareness still needs improving, but he was surprisingly good against the smaller Trojan defenders after securing the catch – accounting for a few first downs because of his legs on the way to 98 yards receiving. It was quite the opposite for Alec Lemon in his first game back from a hamstring issue. He was used sparingly and didn't challenge down the field, but did show off his top-notch hands when given the chance on a handful of grabs. Jeremiah Kobena made much less impact this time around, as did the tight ends. Beckett Wales was good after the catch, but neither he nor Carl Cutler could really get going as they did against the Wildcats.
The offensive line was inconsistent against the inexperienced Trojan defensive line. Sean Hickey was once again the best of the bunch along with a consistent Zack Chibane. Macky MacPherson's faults led to pressure on Nassib, resulting in an interception on the first series of the game for the offense. He was otherwise solid on the afternoon. Ivan Foy and Rob Trudo again rotated, and again looked a bit too inconsistent to determine who will be the long-term solution at the right guard position. But the toughest day, once again, has to go to Lou Alexander. While he sprung Gulley with a nice kick-out on the third-quarter score – he was consistently beat in the passing game by Morgan Breslin, who stalked Nassib all day long. Alexander's woes contributed to an interception provoked by Breslin's deflection, a pair of sacks as well as another where Nassib was a bit off-target considering he was hit by the USC junior while releasing a third-down pass to an open Marcus Sales.
While USC racked up the points, the defense faired pretty well for the most part. But like it couldn't slow in Week 1, the big play hurt the Orange the most. Up front, the unit was ferocious early on.Jay Bromley and Markus Pierce-Brewster again penetrated the opposing offensive line at will. Bromley was the lead cog on an early fourth-down stop. Brandon Sharpe continued to match MPB in big plays as he rattled Matt Barkley a few times, including once on a sack, all while containing well. Eric Crume was in Barkley's face to rush a throw to Robert Woods, which ended up floating to the point that Shamarko Thomas could snag his first career interception. While each of the aforementioned starters and key reserves were good, Deon Goggins was the star of the show. Going up against the school he dreamed of playing for, he plugged rushing lanes and occupied blockers throughout the game. He was excellent in his back-side pursuit of the ball, and his penetration even drew a holding penalty in the second quarter.
The defensive line did a great job occupying blockers, but the linebackers looked small against those same blockers on the second level. With the unit, it was hit or miss. Early on, Marquis Spruill was the best player on the field- getting to the USC ball carriers with ease on the way to three stops on the team's first four plays, including combining with Goggins on what seemed like a monumental fourth-down stop. However, with Spruill and the others, the Trojans wore them down with an athletic offensive line that got to the second level to spring Silas Redd and company. Siriki Diabate was washed down in the zone-blocking scheme a few times, often resulting in big running plays. He was better against lead runs, in which he could steady his experience and fill the hole. He was better on third downs and passing situations though he and Dyshawn Davis had a hard time securing what looked like sure interceptions. Davis was again the team's best blitzer, combining with Sharpe for a big sack, but he had a rough game otherwise because of missed tackles and assignments. Like Diabate, he was washed out by pulling linemen on big running plays and showed some vulnerability against mis-direction looks.
While the line was solid and the linebackers had mixed reviews, the secondary had the worst showing on this side of the ball. Granted, Woods and Marqise Lee are two of the best wide receivers in the country, they shouldn't have had so many easy-looking big plays. Both excel after the catch, and the safeties only contributed to more yards because of missed tackles and angles. Thomas missed Redd on a few big runs after showing great open-field skill early on, and he over-pursued Woods on one of the biggest plays of the game. Jeremi Wikles also over-pursued in a big spot, allowing Woods to cut-back on what ended up being a 76-yard scamper across the field in the late stages of the loss. Wilkes also whiffed on Xavier Grimble's score, in which Davis, Durrell Eskridge and Brandon Reddish each also failed to bring down the tight end on the way to pay dirt on what was a third-and-10 play. In coverage, the starting safeties were a bit better – though Wilkes was out-matched by Lee on the game's first score. The coverages were disguised to the point that they prevented big plays over the top in the passing game, though missed tackles ended up providing the chunk yardage USC always seems to get. Cornerbacks Reddish and Keon Lyn had up-and-down days. Reddish was a solid tackler for the most part, but still struggles against physical wideouts. Lyn failed to get off of the WR's blocks on big runs, but he showed great instincts on the quick passes that the Trojans deployed throughout the game. Then there's Ri'Shard Anderson. He was accountable for three passing touchdowns, as Barkley attacked him when he was isolated on either great receiver. Woods got him over the top on the boundary while Lee got the better of Anderson twice on pure jump-balls in the end zone. The junior continues to show subpar ball awareness and skill despite his elite speed.
Doug Marrone's unit was again questionable at best on Saturday. The return game looked a big better with Kobena making some progress on kick returns, but the punt return units are still bland at best. A few bright spots were Ross Krautman's solid 37-yard conversion despite less-than-ideal conditions and Wayne Morgan's coverage on the kick coverage unit, accounting for a pair of timely tackles when the Orange briefly held the momentum in the third quarter. Not-so-bright spots include Riley Dixon's 12-yard punt after Marrone elected to give the ball away on USC's 32 yard-line. Lewellyn Coker missed a big tackle on the punt coverage unit on Woods' 31-yard jolt and Ritchy Desir opened the game with a personal foul.
While 0-2 is still 0-2, the Orange has shown some good things on both sides of the ball during its opening pair of contests against adequate competition. The offensive backfield combo of Nassib-Smith-Gulley appears to be one that will be steady as the season progresses while Lemon and the wide receiving corps look to remain reliable once at full strength. Sales seems to be all the way back, and West is coming along as a solid possession guy. The offensive line still has the most work to do on the offensive side of the ball, while the defensive line remains on top of its assignments early on. Spruill, Diabate and Davis lead an athletic linebacker corps, but mental errors continue to cost the Orange big plays, as it does with the current starting safety combo. Eskridge should see more third-down playing time as he season progresses, as should Keon Lyn – who remains the best pure cover-guy on the roster. Reddish is still coming along and Anderson's inconsistencies will continue to be tested in the red zone until he proves he can hold his ground.