Syracuse v. USC report card

Syracuse hung tough with the No. 2 team in the country, having the ball and an opportunity to take the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. But in the end, USC was too physical and athletic, and pulled away for a 42-29 win. Here are my grades from the game.

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The defense played (relatively) well

Offense

The Orange offense had three drives in the first quarter, and they went something like this: Interception. Punt. Punt.

In 15 plays, SU could only drive 43 total yards. The defense had just handed them a pair of fourth down stops and pitched a shutout in the first quarter, but Ryan Nassib and Co. couldn’t take advantage.

Syracuse finally got something going in the second quarter, and walked away with a field goal before halftime. But by then, USC had put 14 points up on the board, and Syracuse was forced to play from behind the rest of the way.

Of course, there are two halves of football, and the Orange offense was much better in the second half. Nassib finally found his rhythm and Syracuse put together a back-to-back touchdown drives in the third quarter. But down 21-16 with the ball in the fourth quarter, SU couldn’t capitalize.

By the time Syracuse scored in the fourth quarter, USC was already in control of the game.

Grade: C-

» More from SU v. USC: 10 Things We Learned

Defense

If you look at the final score and nothing else, it would be easy to criticize the defense. For the second straight week, Syracuse allowed an opponent to score 42 points. But there are several factors to take into consideration.

For starters, for all of the offensive weapons that USC has, stopping the Trojans on fourth down on their first two drives and then holding them to 14 points in the first half was an impressive feat. The defense even held USC to a single touchdown in the third quarter before USC ran away with 21 points in the fourth.

But let’s take a closer look at the defense’s supposed “meltdown” in the fourth:

  1. USC had to drive a mere 22 yards after Robert Woods had a 31 yard punt return. That made the score 28-16.
  2. On the ensuing drive, Robert Woods took a reverse and ran for 76 yards to set up another TD score (you’ll remember this touchdown as the “Four Syracuse Players Try To Tackle Marqise Lee At The Same Time, Hilariously Miss Over And Over Again” touchdown). 35-16.
  3. For USC’s final touchdown, they received the ball at the SU 48 after a failed onside kick. 42-22.

Two of the three scores came when the defense was given a very short field to work with. That should be pinned more on special teams (more on that to follow) than the defense. As for Woods’ 76 yard run? That’s just supreme athleticism, something that Syracuse just doesn’t have right now.

Grade: B+

» More from MetLife Stadium: Syracuse improves, but not in W/L column

Special Teams

We’ll start with Steve Rene, who returned two punts for -6 yards.

The first punt he fielded, he was drilled by a USC defender after not calling fair catch. The second was a classic “Try To Do Too Much With The Ball” return, where Rene tried to run backward to shake off the kick. Boy, that didn’t work, and coach Marrone let him know about it.

It was fair catches the rest of the way for Rene.

Punting was an issue, too. Like last week, SU gave up a big punt return. It couldn’t have come at a worse time, as Woods return a Jonathan Fisher 39-yard punt for a 31 yard return to stretch USC’s lead from 5 to 12. The net punting average between Fisher and Riley Dixon was 38.0 yards. Not so good.

On the plus side, Ross Krautman hit a 37 yard field goal. Yes, I know. Small victory.

Grade: D-

» More SU football: David Tyree backs Doug Marrone

Overall

Did Syracuse lose the game? Of course they did.

But was it a complete loss all around? No way.

The Orange hung in there for 3 1/2 quarters against a superior athletic team and the No. 2 team in the country. That has to make you feel better about the direction this program is headed.

Alec Lemon said it best: “We did win the moral victory, at the end of the day everyone has wins and losses. But at the end of the day we looked at it as a team and it was the #2 team in the nation and we put up a good fight against them. We lost the game, but we feel great about what we did. Coming up, we know what we can do in 10 more games.”

Grade: B

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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