Woods makes a comeback
Robert Woods was explosive Saturday -- really explosive, the way he hadn't been in a while.
There was the diving catch that got called back because of a holding penalty on Marcus Martin. There were the 10 catches that stood, including two touchdowns, for 93 yards. And there was the electrifying 76-yard run on a reverse that got the Trojans right near the goal line.
Last week, in USC's season opener, Marqise Lee was the star. This week, it was clearly Woods.
"It does feel pretty good to finally make some explosive plays," Woods said afterward. "That's just what I want to do every week, and I'm just waiting for another opportunity to do it again."
On his second touchdown catch, in the third quarter, Woods fell on his right shoulder and reaggravated an injury from earlier in the game, when he was sandwiched among three Syracuse players and had his shoulder pad dented by one of them.
He said it was only a "quick pain" the second time around.
Some of the short screen plays from Matt Barkley to Lee that worked so well against Hawaii weren't working at all against Syracuse. So USC coach Lane Kiffin reversed course, and had Barkley target Woods again and again.
On the drive on which he hurt his shoulder the second time, Woods accounted for 39 of USC's 57 yards on four catches. He was the only player Barkley targeted on the eight-play drive.
"Robert really stepped it up today," Kiffin said.
Everybody found out about it at different times -- or not at all -- but some of USC's camp knew a severe weather delay was likely at some point Saturday.
Kiffin found out from a stadium official before the game that it was "probably going to happen," and Barkley heard the same thing from a referee on the field before kickoff, although he didn't inform his teammates. Both Kiffin and Barkley thought it would happen a little later, though, and Barkley thought the Trojans might even be able to finish the game before the thunderstorm came in over East Jersey.
They weren't. A couple of minutes after USC and Syracuse players returned to the field following an abbreviated halftime break with the Trojans up 14-3, play was halted and both teams were directed back to their locker rooms.
The delay ended up lasting about 70 minutes, with pouring rain falling on the field for most of it. USC spent some of that time preparing for the second half and some of it trying to regroup physically during an unusual situation.
"We don't typically get delays from thunderstorms in Southern California," Barkley said after the game. "I thought our guys responded well, though."
Lee joked he was mad at Barkley for not informing him about the weather. Tight end Xavier Grimble said he didn't really understand what was going on at first.
"I heard about a possible thunderstorm," Grimble said. "But I'm from Las Vegas. I don't really know how a thunderstorm actually works. I've never been a part of anything like that."
When the Trojans finally returned to the field, they mimicked their pre-kickoff routine in the tunnel and running onto the field. That helped erase some of the awkwardness, the players said.
"Basically, we did everything we do to warm up for the game all over again, just to get our feet back," safety T.J. McDonald said. "Everybody's wet and everybody's sweating and it kinda gets cold, but you gotta come back out and warm back up."
The kicking game
Who would have thought a freshman walk-on from Washington would be kicking for the Trojans in their second game of the 2012 season?
Alex Wood didn't. He joined the USC team as a preferred walk-on last month, hoping to play after starter Andre Heidari graduated in 2015. That got seriously fast-tracked Saturday, with Wood taking and converting all six point-after attempts against Syracuse.
"Luckily, I got my chance and took advantage of it," Wood said after the game. "It's a huge high right now."
Wood said his field goal range would have extended to about 40-42 yards in Saturday's game. He said he didn't know what to think when USC faced a fourth down on the Syracuse 25-yard line in the first half, when a field goal attempt would have been exactly 42 yards.
"I didn't go on," Wood said. "But I was ready."
Grimble might have had the best play of the day for USC when he caught a pass from Barkley early in fourth quarter and broke four attempted Syracuse tackles as he fought his way to the end zone for a 22-yard score.
"If they don't make the play, I will," Grimble said.
He said he wasn't sure whether it was actually four players he fought off, but it felt like it.
"I got the ball with my back turned," he said. "All I did was I kept feeling the hits, but I didn't really see anybody. When I turned around, I saw a glimpse of the end zone, and I was like, 'I gotta get there.'"
Grimble's teammates spotlighted the play afterward.
"That's my roommate," Woods said. "He broke four tackles. That shows how big and strong of a player he is -- not only the broken tackles but to also get it into the end zone, that shows the type of player he is."
After Woods said that in the postgame news conference, reporters moved on to asking another question. But Barkley felt the need to add his own comment on Grimble, unprompted.
"I think that's a testament, too, to the way we practice," Barkley said. "There's always a collision, but there's also always a finish 20 yards down the field. That was a perfect example of a guy who never stopped running. He got contact but kept his legs moving, and they fell off.
"It was a cool translation from the practice field to the game."
Kiffin said he did not have an update on center Khaled Holmes, who was carted off in the fourth quarter with what looked to be a serious right ankle injury. Abe Markowitz, one of Holmes' potential replacements, was wearing a sling on his left arm as he exited the stadium Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi would presumably start next week against Stanford if Holmes is out.
Final notes: There were some statistical oddities in Saturday's game: USC was outgained 455-445 and committed more than twice as many penalties, 12 for 82 yards compared to Syracuse's five for 40 yards. The Orange also had 27 first downs to the Trojans' 17. ... The announced attendance at MetLife Stadium was 39,507. Barkley said it seemed as if there were more USC fans than Syracuse fans in attendance, and it did appear that way. ... Receiver George Farmer and defensive ends Wes Horton and J.R. Tavai did not play in the second half because of injury. Farmer was in sweats. ... Barkley turned 22 on Saturday. The Trojans sang him happy birthday in the locker room following the fight song. As for his six-touchdown, one-interception game, Barkley said he thought the pick was a "poor ball" to Woods.