EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Matt Barkley matched a school record with six touchdown passes, and Robert Woods was spectacular with 200 all-purpose yards and two scores, helping No. 2 Southern California shake free of Syracuse 42-29 on Saturday.
The rare trip to the Northeast for the Trojans was choppy at times, and Syracuse’s hurry-up offense kept USC working hard for four quarters at MetLife Stadium, the home of the Giants and Jets.
Led by Ryan Nassib, Syracuse kept things close with consecutive touchdowns in the third quarter to make it 21-16 heading into the fourth. Nassib finished with 322 yards passing, two touchdown passes and a touchdown run.
But the Orange simply had no answer for Woods.
The All-American reached over a defender for a 29-yard score in the second quarter and boxed out a defensive back on a 4-yard touchdown in the third. He finished with 10 catches for 93 yards.
His best plays, though, didn’t involve catching passes.
In the fourth, he grabbed punt on the run and raced 31 yards to the Syracuse 22. Barkley converted that into his fourth touchdown pass, when Xavier Grimble broke free of four Syracuse tacklers at the 10 and ran into the end zone to make it 28-16.
Woods capped his virtuoso performance taking a reverse around left end from the USC 20, cutting back across field and racing to down the sideline before being pushed out at the Syracuse 4, 76 yards later.
Barkley then found his other NFL-ready receiver, Marqise Lee, for a score to give him five touchdown passes against the Orange for a second straight season and a 35-16 lead with 11:38 left.
Nassib and Marcus Sales hooked up for their second touchdown of the game at 7:36, but at that point USC’s offense, which was shut out in the first quarter, was rolling.
Barkley’s sixth touchdown catch was a fade to Lee that Syracuse was all but helpless to stop. Lee finished with 11 catches for 66 yards three touchdowns.
Barkley had just about the most unassuming six-touchdown game in history, going 23 for 30 for 187 yards.
The game at MetLife Stadium is the first of a bunch Syracuse plans to play there, as the Orange try to position themselves as New York City’s college team.
A chance to see Syracuse try to pull off a massive upset wasn’t much of a draw for Orange fans, however. The crowd was announced at 39,507, but there were plenty of empty seats in the two levels of the stadium that were used. And USC fans at the very least equaled ones rooting for Syracuse.
The weather surely didn’t help either. The New York area was under severe weather warnings all day. The rain stayed away in the first half, but the start of the second was delayed to let a storm pass.
It wasn’t the best day by any means for USC’s vaunted offense, but when in doubt, the Trojans could simply put the ball in the hands of one of their star receivers and get what they needed.
The best example came early in the third quarter on third-and-12 at the Orange 22. Barkely fired a quick screen left to Woods, who had lots of traffic in front of him. So he cut toward the middle, then raced across field before turning it up and away from the Syracuse defenders, diving for a first down.
A 12-yard gain hardly ever looked better.
A few plays later, Barkley zipped a pass to Woods, who outmuscled a defensive back for a 4-yard score and a 21-3 lead.
Syracuse responded with a 12-play, 78-yard drive, without a huddle, capped by Nassib’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Sales.
On the next play from scrimmage, Barkley was a bit behind Woods deep over the middle and Shamarko Thomas cut in front to intercept at midfield.
Syracuse went right back to work and Prince-Tyson Gulley reached the pylon on a 7-yard touchdown run that left the score 21-16 with 3:42 left in the quarter after a 2-point conversion failed.
Just like that the 26-point underdog had the USC fans worried – at least a little, and not for very long.