As I sat there, watching this game on TV, I found that I was just very content with everything that was going on. Sure I wasn't thrilled with the outcome at all...although I think we played reasonably well in a lot of facets of the game, but the ACC news just kept a big smile on my face. No matter what happened on the field, Saturday was a net positive for Syracuse University athletics.
It doesn't say much about how Syracuse has played thus far this season, but this was probably the most complete performance we've had, and this game was played much closer than the 21-point differential would lead one to believe. If not for a few dumb mistakes on the field, a few questionable calls, and the injuries to our secondary that seem to happen every week, I think we could've kept this one within 7-10 points.
Ryan Nassib was once again, very impressive. Despite having very little time to throw, he put together a very solid 25-of-37 (68%) passing for 230 yards and a touchdown. When he was given time to throw, he shredded USC's questionable secondary. Obviously, we're never going to celebrate a loss, but this game should really have Nassib's confidence high. USC's secondary isn't very good, but in terms of overall talent, they're definitely a Top-25 caliber team, and he played with them.
Unfortunately for the running game, we fell behind pretty early, because I thought we moved the ball pretty well on the first few drives. Bailey only had 11 carries, but he was able to pick up 47 yards, and we were able to get him involved in the passing game once again to the tune of 5 receptions for 40 yards, which was great to see.
How much more can we talk about these wide receivers. Alec Lemon had the one bad drop that halted a drive, but aside from that he grabbed another 7 receptions for 72 yards. He's just a good, classic possession receiver. And how about that throw?
Last week I was talking to a friend about whether or not we'd see much Wildcat in the next few days, and I said that I'd like to see Lemon run it because he's quick and he played QB for a portion of his high school career. This wasn't quite that, but that play was a thing of beauty. Van Chew was wide open, Lemon put the ball where it needed to be, and Chew did Van Chew things in the endzone with the diving catch. He has such good concentration on passes that he needs to dive for, it's really remarkable. I was glad to see Graham get a few more looks as well, and Nick Provo really had a bounce back game, and was that security blanket type that we thought he could be.
The offensive line was up-and-down once again. I really liked what they were doing on that first drive, their run blocking was a complete turn around from last week's Rhode Island debacle. We moved the ball down the field at will, I just wish we didn't get so conservative near the goal line. A touchdown there would've been absolutely huge. On the other hand, I thought that the pass blocking was atrocious for the most part. Nassib just didn't have time to get comfortable at all. If we could've bought him an extra second or so per play, we may be celebrating a victory right now.
The defensive line had a nice game, despite missing Chandler Jones. Torrey Ball is quietly having an excellent season, he had a few more big plays in the backfield this week. Deon Goggins continues to impress. I heard there was a group of about 30 #13 Syracuse jerseys in the stands at the Coliseum, I was glad to see Deon have a very solid game in his homecoming. Mikhail also had his best game of the season. There was one play where he was by the offensive tackle before he could even get out of his stance, and I believe he had a nice hit on Barkley. The front seven really bottled up the run well—aside from one long 43-yard run from Curtis McNeal, we held the Trojans to 132 yards on 32 carries. Marc Tyler was effectively shut down, he only managed 41 yards on 15 carries. However, the big issue for the front seven is that we couldn't get any real pass rush generated from our defensive line. When we didn't blitz, Barkley tore us apart, and when we did, there were open receivers all over the field.
The d-line was also responsible for what I consider to be the game-changing play, unfortunately. The late-hit call on Brandon Sharpe, while a bit touchy, is just a bad penalty that there's no reason to take. Instead of the automatic first down, we would've had them to 3rd-and-15, and the way we were flying all over the field, I think we would've forced the punt. That was a huge momentum shift early on.
The linebackers were also very solid once again. Marquis Spruill has just been awesome to watch. I think he's going to project as a first day NFL pick in a few years if his career trajectory stays on its current course. It's going to be an absolute joy watching him abusing ACC running backs for years to come. The outside linebacker stable of Cam Lynch, Dan Vaughan and Dyshawn Davis continues to play well.
I'll temper my blame on the defensive backs for the failings of the defense a bit for this game. As I already mentioned, we really struggled to get after Barkley, and he's an NFL-caliber quarterback. You can't let players like that stand in the pocket and play in their comfort zone. This was the best offense we'll see all year, and it's not all that close. Having both Thomases and Keon Lyn go down was just too much to overcome. I think Brandon Reddish is going to be a good player, but it's hard to go out as a true freshman and cover the type of weapons USC threw at us. I think, if anything, this was a good experience for the corners, because they won't see anything like this from a talent perspective all season.
Special teams were a bit of a mess. The punting situation needs to get sorted out, it was a mess. Raupers' punts were terrible, and when Jonathan Fisher came in, his weren't much better (although they went farther for sure). However, it was the kick returning that troubled me the most, and I don't mean what Kobena did with the ball. Every time he came close to the 15, there were already four Trojans bearing down on him. Did anyone on the return team block at all? I've never seen anything like that before, it was really troubling.
Again, a 38-17 loss isn't what anyone would call a "success", but I thought we played better than the score shows, and this is the best team we'll play this year. They were unimpressive in their first two weeks, but the Trojans really put it all together against Syracuse this week, so we just have to take it on the chin, and get ready for Toledo. They may have gotten blown out by Boise State, but I still think the Rockets are a pretty good team, and will give us all we can handle this weekend.