EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Severe weather at MetLife Stadium on Saturday suspended the start of the second half between No. 2 USC and Syracuse by 69 minutes.
The Trojans, leading 14-3 at halftime, came out of the locker room to warm up for the third quarter but were quickly ushered back as thunderstorms rumbled throughout the vicinity. A tornado warning had been in effect for the Tri-State area for most of the afternoon.
During the delay, stadium officials also forced spectators sitting in exposed seating areas to evacuate and find cover on the concourses as lightning hit the area.
The weather contributed to the strangeness of a game in which MetLife Stadium was filled to less than half-capacity and senior quarterback Matt Barkley threw for six touchdowns, but just 187 yards.
“It wasn’t an easy situation to come play in,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “That’s why, when NFL teams look at their schedule at the beginning of the year, they count their East Coast trips. Credit our players. They did a good job in a game that’s not really easy to play.”
Though he didn’t want to distract his team, Kiffin was informed of the likelihood of a delay before the game started. Barkley was the only player aware of the possibility after asking the officiating crew about the weather beforehand.
“The stadium [officials] did a great job,” Kiffin said. “They informed me — we didn’t tell our players — [the delay] was probably going to happen at some point during the game. ”
USC’s 35-26 victory against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in 1990 was the last time before Saturday that the Trojans experienced a game delayed by thunderstorms.
Given the information in advance, Kiffin and his staff put a contingency plan in place.
“We knew what we were going to do,” Kiffin said. “We were going to take the pads off. We were going to go to dry shirts. We were really going to let our guys sit around and really coach our guys schematically and not waste a lot of energy.”
Barkley indicated that his team responded as well as could be expected.
“We don’t typically get delays from thunderstorms in Southern California,” Barkley said. “Our guys responded well, though. We came out in the second half and made some adjustments on offense and defense and made it right.”
Sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey, who snared two interceptions in the game, described the locker room atmosphere as calm but focused.
“It’s something we are not used to, but we handled it well,” Bailey said. “We came out hot in the second half.”
In retrospect, Kiffin said he was proud of his players for overcoming a set of circumstances that could have led to a lackadaisical, sloppy second half.
“They did a good job coming out with energy in the third quarter,” Kiffin said.