Four Downs: Syracuse

The USC passing offense is poised to break out, one of four keys to watch for Saturday as the Trojans host Syracuse.

1. Intimidation Fascination
Lane Kiffin is certainly fond of the good old days. The second-year USC head coach talks about the depth predecessor Pete Carroll had that afforded practices more competitive than games, the takeaways, the blowouts and the sheer dominance the Trojans showed at the Coliseum usually by just showing up in Cardinal and Gold.

Who wouldn't noting that Kiffin is 5-3 at home, only one of those wins coming by more than nine points?

This year, USC had chances to run Minnesota and Utah out of the building, but were unable because of ill-timed turnovers, penalties and mistakes. This week against a shaky Syracuse team is the perfect opportunity to finally score a decisive victory.

The Orange will be hard to rattle, led by seniors that have endured plenty of turmoil, but also experienced upset wins at Notre Dame and West Virginia in their careers. But if the Trojans can capitalize on their overwhelming talent advantage, even this scrappy group from upstate New York will fade.

2. Secondary to None
As improved as the defense has looked, early returns in the secondary are a bit troubling. They haven't surrendered explosive plays as they did a year ago, but still allow far too many conversions on third and long.

Cornerback Torin Harris and safety Jawanza Starling are on notice as Kiffin said changed could be coming on the back end.

With the explosive one-two punch of Arizona State and Arizona on deck, Syracuse and its senior quarterback Ryan Nassib represent the next step up from the limited passing attacks USC has faced. Nassib has completed 75.4 percent of his passes for 496 yards, six touchdowns and one interception this season.

While Harris came up with the late interception against Minnesota, it is time for the USC defensive backs to show they can continue the gains from a year ago, while faring better when given chances to get the opposing offense off the field.

3. Get Everyone Involved
Kiffin talked a good game about using more players this season, but has yet to follow through. USC used 43 players in its opener, then upped that tally to 47 last week.

While that might be forgiven given how Minnesota and Utah took them down to the wire, that's still not nearly enough to prevent the late-game fatigue that crippled the Trojans last season.

Kiffin says safety Drew McAllister and corner Anthony Brown will play this week, plans to increase freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson's role and rotate more on the offensive line.

That's all well and good if coaches actually follow through this time. Eventually USC will need to rely on more players as injuries accumulate. Syracuse should offer the opportunity to figure out who can and cannot be relied upon and to get youngsters some much-needed experience.

Of course, a blowout would afford the perfect low-pressure situation for some on the job training.

4. Passing Fancy
All due respect, but Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price is no Matt Barkley.

Syracuse surrendered 289 yards passing and three touchdowns to Price before he exited the season opener in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, opening the door for a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Orange. And that was with second-team All-Big East defensive end Chandler Jones, who led the team in sacks last season, in the lineup.

Barkley fared well against Utah, directing a conservative game plan out of respect for the Utes' deep and underrated defensive line. This week Kiffin looks ready to unleash Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods, who will be shadowed by sophomore corner Keon Lyn.

With 25 receptions through two games, they will have plenty of chances to connect again on Saturday, especially off play-action given the impressive return of redshirt senior running back Marc Tyler.


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