Perhaps a weather delay was just what No. 2 USC needed in order to get its somewhat stagnant offense going.
After Saturday’s 69-minute weather delay, the Trojans exploded for 28 points in the second half. Behind a career-best six touchdown passes, senior quarterback Matt Barkley led the Trojans to a 42-29 win over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
In front of an announced crowd of 39,507, the Trojans (2-0) only amassed 71 yards in the first quarter, with Barkley having just 27 passing yards. USC attempted three fourth-down conversions in the first, converting one on a Marqise Lee sweep. Kiffin did not make excuses after the game and gave all the credit to the Orange.
“A lot of praise for those guys,” Kiffin said. “This is a good team that we were coming to play today. … Give those guys a lot of credit for playing really hard.”
Kiffin also made reference to the fact that playing in an NFL stadium on the other side of the country made things difficult.
“It’s not an easy situation to come into,” Kiffin said in reference to playing at the home of the New York Giants and Jets. “That’s why NFL teams come look at their schedules at the beginning of the year and don’t want to count their East Coast trips.”
After a slow first quarter, USC’s luck turned in the second quarter when Barkley hit sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee for a 13-yard touchdown. Barkley also found junior wide receiver Robert Woods down the sideline with a little more than a minute to go in the half. Barkley finished with 187 yards passing on 23 completions.
“[Barkley] played really well,” Kiffin said. “Once again, weird environment today, weather issues, wind issues, and I thought he took care of the ball really well.”
The Orange put their first points on the board as time expired in the half, and USC was leading 14-3 — but then the clouds came.
Fans were forced to stand inside the stadium while the players and coaches left the field for more than an hour as intense rain and storms passed overhead. During the delay, Barkley said the team was calm and relaxed.
“I put my feet up, put my headphones on,” Barkley said. “I took my pads off. I knew it was going to be longer than five or 10 minutes.”
After the delay, Barkley hit Woods for a four-yard touchdown with 11:38 left in the third. Syracuse, with quarterback Ryan Nassib at the helm, led the Orange to within five points after Barkley threw his first interception of the season.
Entering the fourth, with the game close at 21-16, Barkley threw a touchdown to sophomore tight end Xavier Grimble, who bounced off four would-be tacklers to get into the endzone.
Through two games, the Heisman hopeful has thrown 10 touchdowns and only one interception. Barkley’s six scoring tosses Saturday matched USC’s in-game record and put him at a career total of 90 — nine shy of Matt Leinart’s school record.
Despite Barkley’s touchdowns, it was a Robert Woods run in the fourth quarter that got everyone in the stands on their feet.
Woods took a reverse up the left sideline and cut all the way across to the right before being tackled by a Syracuse player after a 76-yard gain.
“Coach Kiffin called a reverse, [we had] been practicing it the whole week,” Woods said. “[I] hit the edge — great block from Marqise [Lee] — two cuts, and I just tried to race down the sideline.”
He finished with 76 rushing yards, 93 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns. Lee had 66 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Barkley capped off his night with a scoring toss to Lee with 5:45 left in the game to put the game at 42-22. The Orange would score late to make the final tally 42-29.
The defense held up its end of the bargain Saturday night, forcing Nassib, the nation’s leading passer, to throw two interceptions, both of which were caught by sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey. Bailey took charge of the defense when the game got close and finished the game with eight tackles.
“I am one of the leaders of our defense,” Bailey said. “We huddled up and got the message across that we had to come up with a stop and put the ball back into our offense’s hands. We have one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and they exploded in the second half like we thought.”
The Trojans head back to the West Coast for next week’s game and will face Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. on Sept. 15, marking their first Pac-12 contest of the season.