Robert Woods went over defensive backs and outmuscled them. He darted and cut through Syracuse, and made a huge play every time Southern California needed to shake free from the Orange.
The All-American receiver was so good, Matt Barkley’s school-record six touchdown passes seemed almost pedestrian.
Woods was spectacular with 200 all-purpose yards and two scores, helping No. 2 USC (2-0) come away from a rare trip to the Northeast with a 42-29 victory against the Orange on Saturday.
”Each and every player on this team is trying to take over,” Woods said. ”When the game is that close, each player has that mindset, let’s take over.”
Wood did just that, and the Trojans needed a boost. They were choppy at times, and Syracuse’s hurry-up offense kept them working hard for four quarters at MetLife Stadium, the home of the Giants and Jets.
Led by Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (0-2) 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.
”That’s the No. 2 team in the nation,” receiver Alec Lemon said. ”We put up a great fight against them.”
But the Orange simply had no answer for Woods.
”Very frustrating. They have two great receivers, 2 and 9, Woods and (Marqise) Lee,” Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill said. ”They gave us a big problem.”
Lee caught 11 passes and three touchdowns, but Woods made the game-changing plays.
He 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.
”It was set up pretty well,” Woods said. ”Hit the edge, great block from Marqise). Two cuts, and I just tried to race down the sideline. The guy had a good angle. It was pretty much set up with that Marqise block on the edge.”
Barkley then found Lee, his other NFL-ready receiver, 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 pass was a fade to Lee that Syracuse was all but helpless to stop. Barkley had six touchdown passes last season against Colorado.
He finished 23 for 30 for 187 yards, certainly didn’t hurt his chances of returning to the New York area in December for the Heisman Trophy presentation – and had a happy 22nd birthday.
”He got a Happy Birthday song from the team,” Woods said. ”He’s probably going to get a lot of Twitter shout-outs later.”
Then Barkley interrupted: ”Had a couple of banana peels thrown at me.”
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 for Syracuse.
Trojans fans on this side of the country haven’t seen their team in these parts since 2000. USC was 2-1 in the old Giants Stadium from 1990-2000, and before that hadn’t played in the New York area since 1951 when Frank Gifford led the Trojans to a victory against Army.
The weather surely didn’t help fill the stadium 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.
What did Barkley do during the delay?
”I put my feet up. Put my headphones on,” he said.
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. Barkley 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 to make it 21-3.
Syracuse responded with two touchdowns and just like that the 26-point underdog had the USC fans worried – at least a little, and not for very long.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap