It has been dubbed “The Robert Woods effect.”
Woods has been on the national radar—and defensive coordinator’s bulletin boards—since Woods’ 17-catch, 177-yard, three-touchdown performance in USC’s 19-17 win in its opener against Minnesota.
Since then, both Utah and Syracuse have tried to limit Woods by double-teaming the sophomore receiver, with moderate success. In his last two games, Woods has been held to eight receptions each. Again SU, Woods “only” had 82 yards and a touchdown as USC easily handled Syracuse, 38-17.
But, in an attempt to limit Woods, the Orange paid a price for it as USC quarterback Matt Barkley was able to consistently find his lesser known receivers. Barkley had a career night, throwing for 324 yards and tying a career high with five touchdown passes—each to a different receiver.
“If they’re going to double team him, other guys have to step up,” Barkley said to reporters after the game. “If they’re going to leave guys open, we’re going to exploit that.”
That’s exactly what USC did with 2:54 left in the third quarter and the Orange trailing 24-10. With a safety and a cornerback draped on Woods, Barkley saw freshman Marqise Lee in single coverage and fired a 43-yard strike to put USC up by three scores and put the game out of reach.
“Most teams are focused on [Woods], so it gives us the opportunity to show them what we got,” Lee said to reporters following the game. “That one-on-one coverage is amazing.”
Overall, eight different receivers had at least one reception for the Trojans. Aside from Lee’s deep pass, Randall Telfer had a 44-yard reception for a touchdown to start the second half.
They have Woods to thank.
“People are taking Robert away,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said during his post-game press conference. “But if you’re going to put a corner on him and a safety over the top of him … it leaves other players open.”