Syracuse shooting for big win over struggling USC
LOS ANGELES (AP)
Syracuse football players haven't set foot in the storied Coliseum since 1924.
Perhaps the Orange were just waiting for an ideal opportunity to knock off a perennial college football power.
Syracuse (2-0) could land a program-defining victory Saturday night in its first visit to California since 1968.
Sure, the Coliseum still is a bit intimidating, particularly during night games. But the Trojans (2-0) themselves aren't really scaring anybody these days.
''They suit up just like we do,'' said Syracuse nose tackle Deon Goggins, a Los Angeles-area native. ''They put on the same equipment, the same shoes. You can't just go in there and be intimidated. They're going to try to intimidate us. I mean, it is the old home of the Oakland Raiders, and everybody knows how they are. USC is like the baby Oakland Raiders.''
The Trojans and their former Raiders coach still don't resemble the powerhouses that dominated the West Coast in the previous decade. Lane Kiffin's offense fell apart in the second half of its victories over Minnesota and Utah, forcing the Trojans to rely on defense and special-teams wizardry to stay unbeaten.
It all adds up to an opportunity for the Orange, although they aren't off to an impressive start, either. Syracuse barely survived narrow wins over Wake Forest and FCS opponent Rhode Island, and the Trojans are a quantum leap forward in talent and history.
''They have a really good passing game, and they're playing extremely well,'' Kiffin said. ''Their passing game is a timing game, and they're coached real well in it. We're going to have our hands full.''
The Orange have taken a humble approach to their latest cross-country trip, praising USC's aura and touting its impressive talent at nearly every position. Coach Doug Marrone said USC was ''maybe the best program in college football,'' touting everything from the Trojans' history to their current talent stockpile.
Yet the Trojans just haven't been the world-beaters they resemble on paper for Kiffin's first 15 games, lending hope to any opponent - particularly a team with the talent and spark of Syracuse.
''If you look at the last eight years in the program, we're 34-62, and we're going against a team that's 88-16,'' Marrone said. ''We're struggling as a program because we're working to get better. That's what we're trying to do. Our kids have only been on the West Coast once (a 41-20 loss at Washington last season), so they really don't know the struggles of it. They just know the challenges of when you take a long trip.''
The schools have no significant history or rivalry apart from a similarly outstanding lineage at tailback. The school that produced Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Larry Csonka is visiting Tailback U., the home of O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen and Charles White - although the current ball-carriers at each school have plenty of work to do if they hope to join that discussion.
USC's Marc Tyler still has hopes of getting there after a horrible start to his senior year. Tyler began training camp under suspension for a series of misdeeds culminating in a rant on TMZ, but gained reinstatement to practice last month followed by a return to the lineup in USC's second game.
After rushing for 113 yards and a score against Utah, Tyler appears determined to make up for his mistakes.
''If we execute our game plan and work together, we can gain a lot of yards every week,'' Tyler said. ''This week is a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against their defense.''
Quarterback Matt Barkley said the Orange's defenders ''are simple in what they do. They don't do a lot of crazy stuff, but they do it well.''
USC's greatest advantages might pop up when Syracuse has the ball. The Orange's offensive line has struggled already this season against unimpressive opposition, and the Trojans' defensive line has been outstanding, with defensive end Nick Perry leading a strong pass-rush.
USC's line and linebackers thoroughly shut down the ground games of its first two opponents, and a similar effort against Syracuse will put pressure on quarterback Ryan Nassib to deliver in its precise passing game.
Nassib has thrown three touchdown passes apiece in each of Syracuse's last three games dating to last season's Pinstripe Bowl victory over Kansas State, but the Orange managed just 157 yards rushing in their first two games this season.
''(Nassib) can throw the ball 60 yards downfield on the run, so we can't be complacent,'' USC safety T.J. McDonald said. ''Regardless of who comes into the Coliseum, we've got to protect it. We respect every team we play, even when we don't play them very often.''