What's going on with Robert Woods?
The All-American USC receiver has experienced a dramatic downturn in production so far this season, and the Trojans' overall offense is suffering as a result.
How far have his numbers fallen? A look at USC's first four games in the 2011 and 2012 seasons shows a significant decline.
Last season, Woods was targeted 59 times in the Trojans' first four games. Forty-one of those attempts resulted in completions, of which four went for touchdowns. Seventeen of the passes intended for Woods were incompletions and one was an interception (remember Vontaze Burfict's pick?).
On those 59 total tries, Woods gained 492 yards, which meant that for every time Barkley tried to throw to him the Trojans gained approximately 8.3 yards.
This season, Woods has been targeted 48 times in USC's first four games. Twenty-five of those attempts resulted in completions, four of which went for touchdowns, and another four went for pass-interference penalties, which we'll count as positive outcomes for the purpose of this analysis. Sixteen of the passes intended for Woods were incompletions and three were interceptions.
On those 48 total tries, Woods gained 203 yards through the air and another 47 yards on penalties, which meant that for every time Barkley tried to throw to him, the Trojans averaged approximately 5.2 yards.
So the Trojans are more than three yards less productive each time they have thrown to Woods so far this season.
Why the drop? It's pretty simple, really.
One, the Trojans' other outstanding wideout, Marqise Lee, has more big-play potential than Woods, and Barkley has targeted him 54 times so far this season because of that. (Lee is averaging 8.5 yards per target without accounting for penalty yardage.) Lee's hands aren't quite as good as Woods', but Lee is a better leaper and a more dynamic playmaker.
Two, opposing teams are giving Woods a great deal of respect and focusing on him in their defensive gameplans. Cal assigned its top corner, Marc Anthony, to Woods for the majority of the game on Saturday, while second corner Steve Williams was isolated on Lee several times. Head coach Lane Kiffin mentioned this week that teams are switching their defenses up specifically to stop both Woods and Lee.
Add to that the fact that Woods missed considerable time in the preseason while recovering from an ankle injury (Woods says he's 100 percent healthy now, but Kiffin said this week that Woods has yet to fully participate in a week of practice this season), and you have a receiver who might still be working his way back into polished form and into ideal timing with his quarterback.
And finally, factor in Kiffin's play-calling, which has featured short passes and quick outs in the early going, passes that haven't given Woods the same opportunities to stretch out his catches for long gains.
It's not that Woods can't be counted on to break plays for big gains at some point. He's still fast, he's still agile, and he's still smart in the open field. He works hard and his timing with Barkley should continue to improve as the season progresses.
But it's been a struggle in the early part of the season. And it bears watching from here on out.