For the first time all season, the Trojans trailed.
It didn’t matter, however, as USC (3-0, 1-0) scored 24 unanswered points en route to a 38-17 victory over Syracuse.
“It is really nice to get a win like the old days,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “We are really pleased to get to 3-0 this week. Our guys fought all night long for us and I’m really proud of that.”
On Syracuse’s (2-1) opening drive, quarterback Ryan Nassib completed 8-of-8 passes for 55 yards, which culminated in a Ross Krautman 21-yard field goal.
But the USC offense responded quickly, reeling off 17 consecutive points heading into halftime.
The Trojans responded with a 10-play, 66-yard drive on junior quarterback Matt Barkley’s five-yard touchdown pass to senior fullback Rhett Ellison. Barkley completed five passes to three different receivers for 57 yards on USC’s first possession.
Barkley finished 26-of-39 for 324 yards and five touchdown passes, which tied a USC single-game record. Barkley also achieved the feat against Hawaii and California last year.
“I didn’t notice until I looked up at the board late in the game,” Barkley said. “I think that was because of how we spread the ball around tonight. We had a full game on offense and everyone pitched in. It feels good and we needed this.”
Barkley’s five touchdown passes gave USC balance and other options in the passing game outside of sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods.
Barkley, however, still looked to his favorite receiver as Woods caught eight passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The eight receptions gave Woods 33 receptions through three games, which is the most in a three-game stretch in USC history.
His 31-yard touchdown pass to Woods extended the USC lead to 14-3 with 10 minutes in the second quarter.
After the USC defense forced a Syracuse three-and-out, freshman kicker Andre Heidari nailed a 26-yard field goal — his second of the season — minutes before halftime to give USC a 17-3 lead.
The USC defense, which struggled to stop opponents on third-down conversions last season, allowed the Orange to convert on 4-of-5 third-down opportunities in the first quarter. In the second quarter, however, the Orange was 0-of-5.
Nassib, who started 11-of-11 for 74 yards in the first quarter, was just 2-of-10 in the second quarter for 12 yards.
The USC defense also limited the Syracuse offense to just 34 total yards in the second quarter.
“This was a big night for us on defense,” senior linebacker Chris Galippo said. “The first two weeks we gave up too many big plays and big drives. Tonight, we were able to avoid that.”
With a comfortable lead going into the second half — much like the previous two games against Minnesota and Utah — the USC offense wasted no time getting on the scoreboard.
Four plays and 64 yards later, the Trojans extended their lead to 24-3 after Barkley’s 44-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Randall Telfer. The touchdown was the first of Telfer’s career.
The Orange responded right back, however, as Nassib completed two passes for 37 yards and wide receiver Lemon lofted a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Van Chew.
In the previous two games against Minnesota and Utah, it seemed as if USC would let another opponent make it another close ballgame.
Syracuse seemed re-energized with the score, forcing USC into a quick three-and-out. A Nassib completion for 33 yards to tight end Nick Provo put the Orange at the Trojans’ 37-yard line.
Syracuse was poised to make it a one-score ballgame but junior defensive end Wes Horton and senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris brought down Nassib for an eight-yard loss, ending the Orange scoring threat.
“I feel like our defense played great,” said sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey. “Our coach has talked about finishing games, and we came out here and finished this.”
Two more Barkley touchdown passes — a 43-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee and a nine-yard strike to tight end Xavier Grimble — finished the scoring for the Trojans, giving USC its highest-scoring total since registering 48 points against California last season.
“Telfer, Grimble and Lee all came up big for us tonight,” Kiffin said. “I’m proud of the improvement they showed. Guys are going to make mistakes starting out for them, so for them to contribute for us tonight really gives us something to build on.”
USC travels to Tempe, Ariz. next weekend, Sept. 24, to face Arizona State. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
The Sun Devils (2-1) are coming off a 17-14 loss to Illinois. They are led by junior quarterback Ross Osweiler, who has thrown for 871 yards and six touchdowns through three games this season.