Early Big Game Analysis - Syracuse vs. USC
USC FS T.J. McDonald & Syracuse TE Nick Provo
USC FS T.J. McDonald & Syracuse TE Nick Provo
Posted May 20, 2011

Looking ahead at the Early Matchups. Syracuse vs. USC

Preview 2011

Early Matchup - Syracuse vs. USC

- 2011 USC Preview | 2011 USC Offense
- 2011 USC Defense | 2011 USC Depth Chart
- USC Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

- 2011 Syracuse Preview | 2011 Syracuse Offense
- 2011 Syracuse Defense | 2011 Syracuse Depth Chart
- Syracuse Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006


Offense: Progress is a relative thing. The Syracuse offense achieved some a year ago, but not quite what the coaching staff had in mind. In fact, it was hardly perceptible from a statistical standpoint, yet the Orange still found a few positive strides to rally around. A traditional system, featuring a fullback, tight end, and two receivers, was installed, a young quarterback earned his stripes, and the offensive line took baby steps. A big chunk of that group returns to Upstate New York, though 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter does need to be replaced. Ryan Nassib enters his second season as the starting quarterback, surrounded by all of his top receivers and both of his starting tackles. The ground game, so pivotal to the offense's success, will be in the hands of veteran Antwon Bailey, a mighty-mite who's played plenty for the program. Syracuse needs to remain on a northern trajectory, bettering modest numbers, like 322 yards and 22 points a game.

Defense: Smoke and mirrors. That might be one way to describe how Syracuse was able to piece together some of the best defensive numbers in the country without a lot of top-rate talent. Heck, just one Orange defender was drafted in April, which is one more than might get selected next spring. Puffing the smoke and tilting the mirrors was coordinator Scott Shafer, who arrived determined to get the program's best athletes on the field and allow them to roam with few limits. It worked. Syracuse ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense and scoring D. Maintaining those numbers, however, will require the staff to search a little deeper up its sleeve. The Orange will be breaking in two new starters at defensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback, a daunting task for a unit with limited overall depth. There's talent, such as DE Chandler Jones and safeties Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas, but this group will continue to rely on teamwork, good fundamentals, and a mindset that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Best offensive player: Sophomore LT Justin Pugh. No Syracuse player has grown more in one year than Pugh, who earned a spot on the All-Big East second team in his first year as a starter. Far more nimble than expected for a 6-6, 299-pound, he protects the passer and moves his feet as if he plans on getting paid to play when his college career is over. Playing on the staff of former Orange offensive lineman Doug Marrone will only help his progression over the next couple of years.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Chandler Jones. Only at the halfway point of his career, Jones is on his way to becoming one of the Big East's better pass rushers. Despite modest numbers, 9.5 stops for loss and four sacks, league voters recognized his ability and voted him to the all-conference second team. Quick off the snap, he has the long arms and legs to beat opposing tackles around the edge. Once he hones his skills and improves at finishing plays, his numbers are capable of doubling this fall.


Offense: While there were misfires along the way, the Trojan offense played well in Lane Kiffin's first season, running a balanced attack that averaged more than 400 yards and 30 points a game. The key constant from that group will be the Matt Barkley-to-Robert Woods hook-up, which is certain to become one of the nation's most feared pitch-and-catch combos. What's not so certain are the offensive line and the identity of the feature back. The front wall lost three starters, including first round pick Tyron Smith, and has spent the offseason trying to overcome various injuries. Rookies, like Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker, will quickly be thrust into prominent roles this summer. Last year's leading rusher Marc Tyler is back, but he's getting challenged by his own lack of focus and some gifted kids behind him. Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, in particular, looked great in the spring and has a chance to steal a number of carries from the incumbent this fall.

Defense: Celebrated coordinator Monte Kiffin is looking for a do-over after his first season on his son's staff was a flop. He'll get it after USC delivered one of its worst defensive performances in school history, yielding an improbable 400 yards and 26 points a game. The good news is that the young Trojans should have a better grip on his complex scheme. While there aren't many obvious mega-stars, save for maybe FS T.J. McDonald, the coach has no shortage of budding playmakers just itching to turn the heads of NFL scouts. DE Nick Perry, LB Devon Kennard, and CB Nickell Robey are only three of last season's handful of underclassmen capable of blooming into All-Pac-12 performers. Above all else, Troy needs to patch up a leaky secondary that gave up 30 touchdown passes, more than any team in the conference and all but five programs in the country.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Matt Barkley. Now, Barkley isn't a finished product after just two seasons on campus. However, if he develops as a junior the way he did as a sophomore, he'll be one of the half-dozen or so best quarterbacks in America. Playing with an NFL rifle and the intelligence of a fifth-year senior, he's ready to take the next step and become the vocal leader of the USC program. The staff is looking for more production and better decision-making after he threw 26 touchdown passes and a dozen picks, which matches the quarterback's expectations as well.

Best defensive player: Junior FS T.J. McDonald. At 6-3 and 205 pounds, with long arms and a fluid stride, McDonald has always looked the part of a prototypical safety. Last fall, he began to play that part. Eminently comfortable in the starting lineup, he racked up a team-high 89 tackles and three picks, en route to a spot on the All-Pac-10 second team. With another season to hone his skills at reading offenses and plays, he might be NFL-ready by the time the regular season has ended.