Andrew Renneisen | Photo EditorFootball
On the defensive: Syracuse expects daunting challenge against Trojans offense
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, a quote about Marquis Spruill getting Robert Woods back during last season’s Southern California game was misattributed. The quote was said by Spruill. The Daily Orange regrets this error.
If Doug Marrone had his way, Matt Barkley would be in the NFL.
Syracuse wouldn’t have to worry about shutting down the Southern California quarterback for a second straight season, and Barkley would be another elite rookie preparing for his first pro season. Instead, Barkley returned for his senior season with the Trojans, hoping to lead them to a national championship after a two-year bowl ban.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m happy that he came back,” Marrone said Monday in the Big East coaches’ teleconference. “I make that statement so people can understand exactly how I feel about him.”
This is the test Syracuse (0-1) signed up for when it agreed to play Southern California (1-0) for two games in 2011 and 2012. The No. 2 Trojans’ offense is filled with stars, and Barkley serves as the headlining act. The Orange defense, which allowed 42 points to Northwestern in the opener, will face arguably its biggest challenge of the season when it lines up against the Trojans in MetLife Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
SU already fell to USC 38-17 at the Los Angeles Coliseum last season.
In that game, Barkley threw for 324 yards and five touchdown passes. The Orange’s secondary struggled mightily against the Trojans’ superior receivers. With another year under his belt, Barkley has only gotten better.
And so have his receivers.
Robert Woods and Marquis Lee combined for 145 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns against SU a year ago. In the Trojans’ first game against Hawaii, the pair had 239 yards, 16 catches and three touchdowns.
Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish said as long as Barkley delivers the ball anywhere in the receivers’ range, they’re going to haul it in.
At the line of scrimmage, Barkley is harder to read than almost any other college quarterback. Reddish said as soon as the ball is snapped the cornerbacks have to take off. Barkley will exploit any hesitation.
Reddish called Barkley a “baby Peyton Manning.”
“It’s tough because you can’t keep your scheme set to one player.You’ve got to worry about the wide receivers, the running backs and quarterback, as well. It just makes it that much harder. You’ve got to read this, watch out for that.”
Marquis Spruill, SU linebacker
“He’s just smart,” Reddish said. “When the ball is snapped, you’ve just got to go. You can’t sit there, because if you sit there, he’s going to pick you apart.”
But USC can beat defenses on the ground as well as it can through the air.
Curtis McNeal was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2011. Before the start of this season, running back Silas Redd transferred from Penn State. Like McNeal, Redd also ran for 1,000 yards last year.
SU linebacker Marquis Spruill called it “hectic.” The Trojans offense has so many weapons that everyone on the Syracuse defense has to have their eyes on several spots at once.
“It’s tough because you can’t keep your scheme set to one player,” Spruill said. “You’ve got to worry about the wide receivers, the running backs and quarterback, as well. It just makes it that much harder. You’ve got to read this, watch out for that.”
Spruill said he will zone in on Barkley’s eyes to guess where he’s going to go with the ball. And then Spruill and the SU defense have to combine that with trying to disguise their coverage because Barkley can pick up on the slightest of signs.
The test for the Orange is as much mental as it is physical. Against the No. 2 team in the nation, every second is a battle. The intensity is always heightened.
Last season, Spruill said he was going for a tackle of Southern California’s running back near the sideline when Woods gave him a big hit. For the rest of the game, Spruill said he was focused on trying to get Woods back.
Considering Woods’ athleticism, that wasn’t easy.
“The rest of the game, I was just trying to hammer him, the whole game. I got him back a couple times, not like I wanted to,” Spruill said. “He probably didn’t know it was a beef, but it was in my eyes.”
But it’s a new season and both teams have new players, he said.
And the Trojans as a whole are considered more explosive and talented than they were in 2011. Against arguably the top quarterback in college football, one who has a variety of playmakers on his side, the Orange’s defense has to be perfect.
Barkley torched Syracuse’s defense last season, and he’s back to do it again.
“The playmakers will make plays. That’s a given,” Spruill said. “It’s just going to make it that much harder to beat them, and we’re going to try our best.”
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