|Syracuse coach Doug Marrone believes it will take a perfect game from his team in order to upset a top-ranked Trojans' team led by Matt Barkley.(Sports Illustrated)|
Last October, Barkley shredded the Orange secondary with 324 yards and five touchdowns. During Monday's Big East coaches' teleconference, Marrone indicated that Barkley, not Robert Griffin III, would have been considered the top quarterback in last April's NFL Draft alongside Andrew Luck.
“I was one of a couple people that was hoping he'd go on to the NFL,” Marrone said. “I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm happy he's back.”
Saturday's game will be played at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets.
Besides being impressed by Barkley's intangibles, Marrone raved about Barkley's pocket presence and patience. Unlike many college quarterbacks Barkley excels in checking down to his backs when his downfield targets are covered, Marrone said. Barkley connected with his running backs four times in last season's 38-17 win over Syracuse.
“If he doesn't like what's going on when they (take away) the deep vertical threats, he can come right back to the backs,” Marrone said. “That's one of the things you see with the top guys in the NFL.”
Barkley, one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy, is also adept at making pre-snap adjustments. A 20-yard completion by Barkley vs. Cal in 2009 illustrates his ability to read defenses effectively. It was a heady play for a quarterback then in his freshman season.
Before the snap, Barkley instructed running back Joe McKnight to move to his right to provide him with a zone-read. McKnight's presence neutralized Golden Bears' outside linebacker Eddie Young on the left edge. With Young occupied, Cal only had two defensive backs in the flat to cover three Trojans receivers. Despite facing a 2nd-and-18, Barkley found wide receiver Damian Williams on a bubble screen for a first down.
“We need to play a perfect game to be in competition with this team,” Marrone said.
No setback for Graham: Following last Saturday's loss to Youngstown State, Pittsburgh senior running back Ray Graham didn't experience any lingering soreness in his right knee, coach Paul Chryst said.
Graham, a Walter Camp Award nominee, appeared in his first game since tearing his ACL last October. The Panthers running back finished with 14 carries for 72 yards. Entering the game, Chryst had hoped to give Graham 10 to 15 carries.
“I felt he trusted himself, probably the best thing was his confidence grew ,” Chryst said. “I thought overall it was good to get him going. I certainly feel, and he does too, that we're over a big hurdle.”
Chryst hasn't determined how many carries Graham will receive Thursday night vs. Cincinnati.
Strong opening performance for Bulls' DL: Facing a flurry of short passes last Saturday against Chattanooga, the South Florida front-four could have been fatigued in the latter stages of a 34-13 win. The Bulls, though, held the Mocs without any points in the fourth quarter and only surrendered 27 yards in the final period.
“I was really pleased with the way the defense ran to the ball,” USF coach Skip Holtz said. “We went into that game prepared to play a lot of people just with the tempo you have to play at. We're not going to be able to hold that for 70 plays on defense with just our starters.”
This week, South Florida travels to Nevada to face a Wolfpack team that rushed for 220 yards in last Saturday's 31-24 win over Cal.
“We have to make sure we solidify our edges,” Holtz said. “Nevada definitely gives you different challenges with their running game and their reads.”
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