Robert Woods is lightning-quick as USC beats Syracuse, 42-29
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Robert Woods was listening.
For much of the last year, USC Coach Lane Kiffin has said that sophomore Marqise Lee had a chance to be the best receiver in school history. After last week’s opener against Hawaii, Kiffin said Lee will be the best.
“I hear it,” Woods said.
In case anyone needed to be reminded that USC has another receiver worthy of top billing, Woods made himself heard Saturday against Syracuse.
On a day when a tornado touched down in New York and the start of the second half was delayed because of possible approaching lightning, Woods bolted back into the national spotlight.
The junior caught two touchdown passes and then set up two others in the fourth quarter to help second-ranked USC pull away for a tougher-than-expected 42-29 victory at MetLife Stadium.
“I hope nobody forgets about me,” Woods said, laughing.
Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley will stay at the forefront of Heisman Trophy discussion after passing for six touchdowns on his 22nd birthday.
He connected with Lee for three, Woods for two and tight end Xavier Grimble for another to tie his own school record.
But for the second consecutive week, a receiver stole Barkley’s spotlight as the Trojans improved to 2-0 heading into next week’s Pac-12 Conference opener at Stanford.
Lee did it in the opener, and Woods, an All-American who caught a school-record 111 passes last season, made Saturday a forget-me-not performance. Despite a sore right shoulder, he outmuscled a safety for a key third-quarter touchdown, zigzagged for a long punt return to set up a touchdown and dazzled with a 76-yard cutback run on a reverse to set up another.
So, yeah, Woods has been listening.
“It’s just motivation,” he said.
USC came to the East Coast motivated to make a statement after dropping from No. 1 to No. 2 in the Associated Press media poll after a 39-point victory over Hawaii.
Playing before a sparse but mostly USC-centric crowd of 39,507, the Trojans were held scoreless in the first quarter, led 14-3 at halftime and then sat through a 1-hour 10-minute delay because of the weather.
“Just kind of weird,” Kiffin said.
Linebacker Dion Bailey got the Trojans going at the start of the third quarter. His second interception of the game set up Woods’ second touchdown.
The Orange pulled to within 21-16 late in the third quarter before Woods returned a punt 32 yards. The play set up a catch by Grimble, who shed four tacklers en route to a 22-yard touchdown that increased the margin to 12 points.
On the first play of the Trojans’ next possession, Woods lined up wide right and took a handoff moving to his left. He broke a few tackles and then cut back across the field before he was knocked out of bounds at the two yard-line.
Barkley connected with Lee for a touchdown and Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib answered with touchdown pass, putting Syracuse within striking distance again with 7:36 left.
But tailback Silas Redd broke off a 40-yard run to set up Barkley’s short scoring pass to Lee. Redd finished with 107 yards in 15 carries.
Barkley completed 23 of 30 passes for 187 yards, with an interception on the only ball he threw beyond mid-range. He has passed for 10 touchdowns in two games.
“A little slow at the start,” he said as he walked off the field, “but we scored 42 points.”
Nassib, who passed for a school-record 482 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s one-point loss to Northwestern, passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns against the Trojans.
“Some things go a different way,” he said, “and it could be a whole other story.”
Not on a day when Woods, once again, made himself heard.
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