EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The last time the Syracuse Orange played in a major New York stadium, they dominated en route to their first bowl victory in nine years. However, in New York’s College Classic at MetLife Stadium on Saturday, it was the Orange that was dominated by a more potent USC offense. Syracuse (0-2) fell to Southern California (2-0) 43-29.
Early on, it was a defensive battle, as neither team could muster any offense. USC failed to convert on two fourth-down plays, and SU gave up the ball on a Ryan Nassib interception to Trojan linebacker Dion Bailey. The Syracuse defense was especially stout, holding USC to zero points in the first quarter.
“We just came out, executed the plan, kept on working the calls and just tried to make the best out of every call,” senior linebacker Siriki Diabate said.
But it was only a matter of time before Southern California figured out the defense. During USC’s first drive of the second quarter, running back Curtis McNeal rushed the ball three times for 42 yards, and Matt Barkley capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown to wide-out Marqise Lee. The Trojans would score again at the end of the second quarter off another Barkley touchdown, this time to wide-out Robert Woods.
With the score 14-0, the Syracuse offense needed a spark right before halftime, and they got it. Nassib led an 8-play, 55-yard drive that ended with SU putting points on the board. Kicker Ross Krautman made a 37-yard field goal, making the score 14-3 at the half.
A severe weather warning delayed the start of the second half by one hour, but did not delay either team from scoring once the ball was in play again.
After another Nassib interception gave USC the ball at the SU 43, Barkley used just under four minutes to drive 43 yards as he threw for his third touchdown of the night, again to Woods, to give the Trojans a very large 21-3 lead.
SU would respond in the very next possession. Nassib masterminded a 12-play, 78-yard drive capped off by a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Sales. Nassib was 4-4 with 57 yards passing and the touchdown on that drive. He also threw his 49th touchdown, good for second most in SU history behind Donovan McNabb.
The very next drive, safety Shamarko Thomas picked off Barkley’s pass intended for Woods. That play would energize the SU offense, as they drove down the field and Prince-Tyson Gulley scored on a seven-yard run. The drive lasted under two minutes and took six plays as they traveled 50 yards. SU would go for two, but would fail to convert. The Orange was within one score of the Trojans, only down 21-16.
SU defense would come back strong again. On a 3rd-and-4 play on the USC 34-yard line, junior cornerback Keon Lyn tackled Lee for a two-yard loss, forcing USC to punt the ball with under a minute left in the third.
The Orange would be unable to take the lead on the next possession, giving USC the opportunity to increase the lead in the fourth quarter.
Southern California scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, both scores coming from the arm of Barkley.
“It wasn't from a lack of effort on our kids' part,” Marrone said. “Wasn’t from a lack of schematics where they weren’t in position. Just a matter of a Heisman trophy-like quarterback just seeing what he wants to see and knowing exactly where to go with the ball.”
SU responded with another long drive. Nassib completed a pass to Sales on 4th and 6 from the USC 44. He followed that up with another throw to Sales, this one good for a 17-yard touchdown, cutting the USC lead to 32-22.
But the SU defense that was seen in the first half seemed to be too tired to hold off the Trojans for one last possession. After USC recovered an onside kick, running back Silas Redd ran 40 yards, giving USC another redzone opportunity. Barkley then completed a three-yard touchdown throw to Lee, his sixth of the night. The Trojans would go up 42-22 with 5:54 left in the game.
“I think we did a really good job sticking with these guys and I know a few key plays didn’t go our way,” Nassib said. “We were definitely in that game and some things go a different way and it could be a whole other story.”
Nassib responded with his own touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 1:17 left in the game, but by that point it was too late for a comeback.
“I feel very good about the direction we’re going,” Marrone said. “Obviously I don’t feel good about losing, no one does. This team that we had I believe is a good football team with a lot of talent going forward.”