Nassib, Syracuse push No. 2 USC, but fall 42-29
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)
It wasn't enough to beat the Matt Barkley and the mighty Trojans, but there were reasons for the Orange to be optimistic.
Nassib passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns, ran for a score, and had Syracuse within a touchdown of USC heading into the fourth quarter, before the Trojans pulled away for a 42-29 victory Saturday.
''I'm very excited with how our team did today. I'm disappointed with the loss,'' Nassib said. ''I think we did a really good job sticking with these guys and I know a few key plays didn't go our way.''
Most of those plays were made by USC All-American receiver Robert Woods. He was spectacular with 200 all-purpose yards and two scores.
Led by Nassib, Syracuse kept things close with consecutive touchdowns in the third quarter to make it 21-16 heading into the fourth. Nassib was coming off a career-best 482-yard performance in a season-opening 42-41 loss to Northwestern.
Even at 0-2, Syracuse looks as if it could be a problem for the rest of the Big East.
''The sky is the limit and we can do it, so we just need to continue to keep working,'' offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said.
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 had 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.
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.
After Barkley's 4-yard TD pass to Woods gave USC a 21-3 lead early in the third, 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.
Syracuse simply couldn't keep up.
''We played a good game,'' center Mack McPherson said, ''but USC is the No. 2 team in the country and in order to beat them you have to be great.''
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap