Despite trailing for the first time all season following a 23-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Ross Krautman, giving Syracuse an early 3-0 lead, USC responded quickly, scoring 24 unanswered points en route to a 38-17 victory over the Orange.
“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.”
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib completed eight-of-eight passes for 55 yards on the Orange’s opening drive, culminating in Krautman’s field goal.
But the USC offense came to life almost immediately with a 10-play, 66-yard drive that culminated in 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 had 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 were to five different receivers, giving USC in balance 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 through three games — the most in a three-game stretch in USC history.
Barkley’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Woods extended the USC lead to 14-3 with 10 minutes remaining 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 field goal of the season — a couple minutes before halftime to give USC a 17-3 lead.
USC, 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, they were 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 at the start of third quarter.
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.
But just when it appeared USC was going to put the game out of reach, the Orange responded right back. Nassib completed two passes for 37 yards and wide receiver Lemon lofted a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Van Chew.
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. But when it seemed Syracuse was poised to make it a one-score ballgame, junior defensive end Wes Horton and senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris brought down Nassib for an eight-yard loss, ending the Syracuse scoring threat.
“I feel like our defense played great,” sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. “Our coach has talked about finishing games, and we came out here and finished this.”
Two more Barkley touchdown passes — one to freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee and one to tight end Xavier Grimble — finished the scoring for the Trojans, giving USC its highest-scoring total since registering 48 points against Cal last season.