Much of the hype around this weekend’s game against Syracuse has been focused on its location: MetLife Stadium, home of the world champion New York Giants and the media circus that is the New York Jets. But head coach Lane Kiffin stressed Thursday after the team’s final practice of the week that this trip was all about business.
“It’s not about where you play, it’s about playing really well, regardless,” Kiffin said. “We’re flying there with one thing in mind and that’s to win the game and get back home.”
Kiffin expressed a similar sentiment before last year’s first road game of the season against Arizona State in Tempe, AZ. The team showed its inexperience in that game, losing 43-22. Kiffin expects the team’s leaders to prevent a similar result this week.
“Hopefully the young guys handle [the trip] really well,” Kiffin said. “We do have some senior leaders for them to learn from. Over the years, we’ve been a pretty good road team, and hopefully we’ll continue that.”
In the Trojans’ season-opening victory over Hawaii, the team amassed 475 yards of offense, but gained just 81 yards rushing on 23 carries, good for 3.5 yards per rush. Despite the lack of production from the ground game, Kiffin does not plan on emphasizing the running attack.
“We’re going to do the best thing to win, regardless of what that is,” Kiffin said. “Whether that’s throwing a bunch or running a bunch, whoever gets the touches gets the touches. But we need to get to 2-0.”
The biggest challenge USC faces this week is Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. In the Orange’s week one loss to Northwestern, Nassib obliterated school records with 44 completions and 65 pass attempts. A dual-threat quarterback, he completed 62.4% of his passes last season with 22 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
“He’s really, really good and extremely efficient,” Kiffin said. “Whether he’s completing balls or not taking sacks and making a few yards scrambling, he makes a ton of plays and does not make many mistakes.”
The defensive lines for both teams will also be a huge factor in Saturday’s game. Syracuse’s front four, though undersized, present a tough matchup for the USC offensive line.
“When you watch the film, you don’t realize [that they’re undersized] because they’re so strong,” Kiffin said. “They are very physical. We’re going to have our hands full.”
On the other side of the ball, USC wants to get Syracuse in passing situations and put pressure on Nassib to make mistakes.
“Getting them into some third and long situations is key,” Kiffin said. “[Our defensive backs] need to find a way to cover their guys long enough so we can get a pass rush.”
When asked if his team viewed this game as an opportunity to extend the Pac-12’s brand to the east coast, Kiffin again preached that this was a business trip.
“I think for our fans, our university, yes, it is important,” Kiffin said. “But for this team, no. I don’t even know for sure if these kids know where they’re playing. This is about the eleven guys out there executing very well, and that’s what we plan on doing.”