In his Wednesday meeting with the media, Lane Kiffin was asked if USC’s matchup against Syracuse and its up-tempo offense on Saturday would be like “basketball on grass.”
Kiffin’s response: “It’s our job to change that. It’s our job to get a good pass rush going.”
The Trojans’ coach is aware of the obvious predicament: Syracuse can score.
In its season opener against Northwestern last week, a 42-41 loss, the Orange amassed 596 total yards, including 482 by way of the right arm of quarterback Ryan Nassib, who set a school single-game passing yards record. Nassib, who in total tallied 512 yards, also managed to break program records for completions (45) and attempts (66).
“You’ve got a quarterback who threw for more yards than anybody in the country,” Kiffin said of the 6-foot-2 senior signal caller, whose 482 passing yards place him atop the Football Bowl Subdivision after week one. “And a lot of people played football Saturday.”
But after scoring more than 40 points in its opener, a 39-point win over Hawai’i, No. 2 USC (1-0) will be expected to keep pace with that fast-paced attack in the inaugural “New York’s College Classic.” With its unit highlighted by a handful of familiar names – senior quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, among others — USC has scored at least 40 in five of its last six contests, spanning to last October. That’s to say its next matchup could very well become basketball on grass. Both can score.
Saturday’s game is slated for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It will be the Trojans’ first road game of the season.
“This is going to be a big test for our guys,” Kiffin said. “Last week we weren’t really tested much. We have to do better.”
USC should, though, at least get a bit of a boost on defense after missing three starters against Hawai’i.
Sophomore middle linebacker Lamar Dawson and junior cornerback Torin Harris insist they’ll be back in the lineup after being sidelined with injuries. Should they in fact suit up, Dawson will likely replace redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao, as sophomore Hayes Pullard moves back to his normal weakside linebacker position after temporarily starting in the middle against the Warriors.
“Hopefully, I just get on the field, make plays and get everybody lined up,” Dawson said.
Similarly, Harris should displace another makeshift starter in sophomore Anthony Brown, who will slide over to the nickel cornerback slot. Senior defensive end Wes Horton’s status, though, remains unknown.
Even with their absence, the Trojans managed to force four turnovers against Hawai’i, including two interceptions. And as Syracuse (0-1), under fourth-year coach Doug Marone, plans to throw upward of 50 times, players don’t appear fazed — not yet anyway.
“I like any team that likes to throw,” said junior cornerback Nickell Robey. “I’m up for it. It gives me another chance to break on routes, bait up defenders, bait up quarterbacks.”
Though Kiffin suggested keeping the game at a slower pace as a result of the Orange’s no-huddle offense, USC hardly appears uncomfortable playing at a faster tempo. A week ago, it jumped out to a 20-0 lead in less than 12 minutes, highlighted by touchdowns of 75 and 31 yards. Not to mention it threw the ball 30 times in the opening half and later a 100-yard kick return from Lee.
Named Pac-12 Player of the Week, Lee, in particular, has been explosive as of late. Since last November — which encompasses five games — the sophomore wideout has caught 49 passes for 806 yards and seven touchdowns. And USC, as a result, has been 5-0.
“A few guys in our group are explosive,” said Tee Martin, USC’s first-year wide receivers coach. “But Marqise does a good job of running past people and threatening people deep down field. He was that last year and this year hopefully we can get him to continue to do that. He’s a big-play type receiver.”
All week long, USC has been contending its foremost priority is slowing down Syracuse and preventing big plays, but its own ability to score and score quickly might serve it well enough as it looks to beat the Orange for the fourth time in the four meetings between the programs.
“We want to be able to start well again,” Kiffin said. “We’ve been fortunate to do that.”