USC needs to win pretty

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
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After inspecting film of USC's 49-10 win against Hawaii, coach Lane Kiffin lamented some "normal first-game sloppiness" and was unhappy with his inconsistent offensive line play, which surprised him after the line was sharp in preseason camp.

But an area that surely caused him to raise a worried eyebrow was the struggles at the cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey. With Torin Harris out with an injury -- one of three defensive starters who didn't play against the Warriors -- Anthony Brown, Brian Baucham and Kevon Seymour were beaten a number of times.

Truth is, it wasn't a big deal against a green Hawaii offense adopting a new scheme. USC had two interceptions and allowed only 208 passing yards. But it could be a big deal Saturday against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellTrojans coach Lane Kiffin knows his team must play better against Syracuse than it did in its opener.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib put up huge numbers in the Orange's nail-biting, 42-41 loss to Northwestern. He completed 44 of 65 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns, with all the touchdowns coming in the second half. He also rushed for 30 yards.

"Their quarterback made a ton of plays," Kiffin said.

USC pounded Syracuse 38-17 last season, and the Orange welcome back only 12 starters. They are again picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East. But it's difficult to scoff at 596 yards gained against a major conference foe.

Kiffin admitted that his defense "didn't get tested a lot" against Hawaii. That could change against Syracuse.

Although the Trojans are overwhelming favorites, they also are in a beauty contest at the top of the polls. All wins are not equal. The Trojans need to win impressively to impress voters.

Consider that they fell from No. 1 to No. 2 behind Alabama after the Crimson Tide stomped Michigan. That seems reasonable, seeing that Hawaii is mediocre to bad and Michigan was ranked No. 8, but the Trojans are the first No. 1 team to drop in the AP poll after winning a game by 35-plus points since Penn State in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So surrendering a bunch of yards and points against Nassib and allowing Syracuse to hang around late in the second half could further hurt USC's standing. Don't think that matters? It will if pollsters and computers are trying to make distinctions in December between multiple unbeaten and one-loss teams. Recall: The BCS still yokes college football for two more seasons.

One way the Trojans can keep Nassib in check is by keeping him and the Orange's up-tempo, no-huddle offense on the sideline. The best way to do that is to run the ball. Although the Trojans piled up some nice passing numbers against Hawaii, the running game sputtered with just 81 yards at 3.5 per carry. Last year's starting tailback, Curtis McNeal, got only five carries, and Penn State transfer Silas Redd got nine.

Kiffin said that didn't indicate a change in the backfield pecking order.

"That wasn't on purpose," Kiffin said.

The Trojans probably aren't on upset alert. But when you're in the national championship chase, it's not only about winning it's about winning pretty. So it's important for "first-game sloppiness" to transform into second-game efficiency and dominance.

Ted Miller | email

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