USC receiver Marquise Lee catches a touchdown pass in front of Syracuse… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
USC came to the East Coast to beat Syracuse, make an impression and show why quarterback Matt Barkley was deserving of Heisman Trophy front-runner status.
Barkley passed for six touchdowns as the second-ranked Trojans won, 42-29, Saturday at MetLife Stadium in a game that featured a 1 hour 10 minute weather delay and a fourth-quarter margin that was closer than most anticipated.
Barkley connected with Marqise Lee for three touchdowns, Robert Woods for two and tight end Xavier Grimble for another to tie his own school record for touchdown passes in a game.
The start of the second half was delayed because of a warning about lightning.
It did not materialize as forecast, but Woods bolted back into the national spotlight.
Woods caught a third quarter touchdown pass and set up two others in the fourth quarter with a punt return and a long run on a reverse.
The Trojans led by only five points heading into the fourth quarter before Woods took over before a sparse crowd that appeared significantly less than the announced 39,507.
Billed as “New York’s College Classic,” the matchup drew muted interest from a New York sports crowd that goes bonkers over the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.
Nevertheless, USC came east hoping to make a statement after slipping from No. 1 to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll after a 39-point victory over Hawaii.
The Trojans looked mostly sluggish until Woods showed the nation that Barkley and Lee might not be the Trojans’ only Heisman Trophy candidates.
Woods finished with 10 catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 32-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter that set up a 22-yard touchdown pass play from Barkley to tight end Grimble.
And Woods’ 76-yard cutback run on a reverse set up a touchdown pass to Lee that gave the Trojans a 35-16 lead.
Barkley, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, completed 23 of 30 passes for 186 yards and six touchdowns with one interception.
Lee had 11 receptions for 93 yards and three touchdowns. Silas Redd rushed for 107 yards in 15 carries.
Linebacker Dion Bailey intercepted two passes for the Trojans.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who passed for 482 yards last week against Northwestern, was 30 of 46 for 327 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
USC led, 14-3, at halftime then both teams waited through the long delay.
Bailey’s second interception set up an eight-play, 43-yard scoring drive that ended with Woods outmuscling Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish for the four-yard touchdown.
But Woods' most impressive play on the drive came on third and 12 at the Syracuse 22-yard line. Woods caught a swing pass to the left side, then cut back across the width of the field and dove for the first down.
Syracuse came right back, Nassib showing scouts there was more than one NFL prospect on the field.
Nassib directed the Orange on 12-play, 78-yard scoring drive that he capped with a two-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marcus Sales.
The Orange kept the momentum when safety Shamarko Thomas picked off a Barkley pass intended for Woods on one off the few routes the Trojans had thrown downfield.
Nassib wasted no time converting.
Taking over at midfield, Nassib directed a six-play drive that culminated with Prince-Tyson Gulley’s two yard touchdown run. A two-point conversion try failed, and USC led 21-16.
The Trojans got some breathing room when Grimble caught a short pass and then shed four defenders for a 28-16 lead with 14:26 left in the game.