DOWNPOUR: Syracuse fails to contain USC playmakers in 42-29 loss at MetLife Stadium
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s not often that a team can come out flat twice, blow most of an 18-point lead and ultimately survive on the road more than 2,700 miles from home.
Even rarer is an offense that acts listless to start, disinterested in the middle, yet coolly puts forth 42 points with a late-game explosion that leaves its opposition grasping at thin air.
But Southern California is not most teams, and Saturday’s experiment away from the Carrier Dome was an environment atypical of most college football games.
A partisan crowd that appeared to contain more red than orange watched USC (2-0) ride its marquee trio of Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to a 42-29 win over Syracuse. Five of Barkley’s six touchdown passes were secured by his two star receivers, and the No. 2 team in the country demonstrated its superior playmaking ability as it kept the Orange (0-2) winless for another week.
“They have three excellent players in Matt Barkley, Woods and Lee,” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said. “I think they are very elite. They are elite college football players. First-round-type caliber draft picks.”
They compose a unit that scored on its first play of the season — a 75-yard touchdown pass to Lee — last week against Hawaii, and that has come to expect similar results with each and every possession.
So when the clock expired on a scoreless first quarter, it was only a matter of time before the juggernaut rounded into form.
“We’re never really going to shut them down and stop them from making plays,” Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill said.
True to form, Barkley and Co. made quick work of the blank scoreboard early in the second quarter. Barkley (23-for-30, 187 yards, six touchdowns, one interception) connected with Lee on a 13-yard slant route to open the scoring on the Trojans’ first possession, and later dropped in a beautiful 29-yard touch pass to Woods despite near-perfect coverage by SU cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson, who even had a hand between Woods’ arms.
USC took a 14-3 lead into halftime, and its offensive triumvirate continued clicking in the second, despite a break of more than an hour due to heavy downpours and thunderstorms.
The Trojans’ first possession in the second half culminated with another Barkley-to-Woods touchdown, this time victimizing Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish. He, too, got a hand between Woods and the ball, only to see the All-American wrestle it away for a 4-yard score on a bullet pass from Barkley.
It left Reddish shaking his arms in frustration, knowing that his coverage was essentially perfect, yet Woods still found a way to score.
“He just took it and scored a touchdown,” Reddish said. “On certain plays, Barkley just throws it to the right spot for his receivers to make plays.”
Reddish’s statement is personified through Barkley’s two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Lee on nearly identical fade routes. Each time, he lofted the ball up and over the head of Anderson, who was beaten on three of Barkley’s six scores on Saturday, for Lee to pluck nimbly out of the air.
Together Lee and Woods combined for 159 receiving yards, five touchdowns and 329 all-purpose yards.
Barkley said he would bet on his two receivers every time in one-on-one coverage. But when Lee’s third and final touchdown beat double coverage from Syracuse on a 3-yard fade to the back left corner of the end zone, it was clear that, sometimes, USC’s one is better than its opponent’s two.
“They just made some good plays, did a nice job,” said Scott Shafer, SU’s defensive coordinator, who was visibly frustrated after the game. “Hats off to Southern California, good football team. Those kids made some nice plays.”
Perhaps no play was nicer than Woods’ 76-yard reverse that set up the touchdown that put the game out of reach at 35-16. Working from right to left across the field, Woods took a pitch from Barkley and turned the corner courtesy of a block from Lee. He cut back, unabated by the slickness of the turf, juking Syracuse strong safety Shamarko Thomas and leaving free safety Jeremi Wilkes slipping toward the sidelines.
That brought the ball to the 4-yard line, and two plays later, Barkley found Lee for the game-clinching touchdown.
Said Barkley: “We had some plays in the second half that I really liked.”
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