Philadelphia, PA – The USC Trojans are poised for a run at the national championship and their All-American tandem on the outside is a big reason why.
Don't be mistaken, it certainly doesn't hurt to have the nation's premier signal-caller under center in Matt Barkley, but USC's Heisman Trophy candidate is locked into a symbiotic relationship with All-Americans Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, a union that should have all three selected extremely high in the NFL Draft.
This relationship hasn't just appeared out of nowhere. Last season, Barkley broke school passing records, completing nearly 70 percent of his throws, for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He now trails only Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart in total offense at USC, and with Woods and Lee continuing to dominate downfield, the senior could be the next USC Heisman winner when all is said and done.
Woods is the more experienced of the two standout receivers, with 2012 representing his junior campaign. We all got a peek at his blossoming talent as a freshman in 2010 when he led the Trojans with 65 receptions, for 792 yards and six TDs.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder blew by those impressive numbers as a sophomore last year, earning consensus All-American honors and being named a Biletnikoff Award finalist, finishing the season with 111 catches, 1,292 yards and 15 TDs. His receptions total set a new Pac-12 record and his touchdowns were just one shy of the single-season school record.
With Woods, you get a receiver who works hard, runs great routes, has fantastic hands and simply outplays the competition.
As great as Woods is, though, Lee is the one who coach Lane Kiffin believes could be the best to ever suit up for USC.
Like his partner, Lee got everyone's attention as a freshman, earning Freshman All-American honors in 2011 after hauling in 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 TDs. At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Lee isn't the biggest target out there, but his other attributes more than make up for it, as his speed, hands and leaping ability make it a mismatch almost every time he runs downfield.
He also happens to be an electrifying kick returner who can score any time he gets his hands on the ball.
Woods and Lee are not the prototype for current NFL receivers in terms of height, but they absolutely play bigger than their physical stature and their road to the NFL seems unobstructed.
The pair have absolutely demolished the competition in the early stages of 2012, combining for nine touchdowns in the first two games.
Against Hawaii, Barkley and Lee set the tone early, as the first play from scrimmage for USC in 2012 was a 75-yard TD connection. Barkley finished with 377 yards and four TDs in the opener. Lee was phenomenal, with 10 receptions, for 197 yards and one TD, while adding a 100-yard kick return for another score.
Woods didn't put up the flashy numbers that Lee did against the Warriors, but did haul in six balls for 42 yards and two TDs.
The encore performance against Syracuse last week was more of the same, with the two star wideouts reversing roles.
Despite horrible weather conditions at the game played in East Rutherford, N.J., Barkley threw a school-record six TD passes, and that was considered an afterthought to the work put in by Woods and Lee.
Woods was huge in every aspect of the game, posting 200 all-purpose yards. He finished with 10 catches for 93 yards and two TDs, adding a long punt return to set up a touchdown as well as a 76-yard reverse that resulted in yet another score for the Trojans.
Lee was unstoppable as well, finishing with 11 receptions for 66 yards and three TDs.
Kiffin praised his two standout receivers following the Syracuse win.
"That's why we recruit ... to get guys like 9 and 2."
Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill summed it up over the weekend and gave an opinion that will be echoed by many a defender this rest of the year.
"Very frustrating. They have two great receivers, 2 and 9, Woods and (Marqise) Lee. They gave us a big problem," Spruill said.
The numbers speak for themselves. Barkley has completed 46 passes this season, with 37 of those going to Woods and Lee. Against Syracuse, the pair were responsible for 21 of Barkley's 23 completions. The pair have combined for 398 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs through two games.
So while USC's game plan is obvious and transparent, stopping it has proved to be impossible.
Kiffin would like to get others involved in the offense, but not at the expense of Woods and Lee losing touches.
"We would like to be more balanced," Kiffin said, "but we would like their touches to be up where they were because they are so dynamic with the ball in their hands. You saw it on two runs, too. Anytime we get the ball in their hands, good things tend to happen."
The adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind here.