What Woods can do for you
September, 18, 2011
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Sometimes, one play tells the whole story.
Take the fourth snap of the second half, for example, when Matt Barkley delivered a perfect strike to a wide-open Randall Telfer for a 44-yard touchdown. It was a pretty play and perfectly orchestrated -- and made possible almost entirely by the incredible receiving talents of sophomore receiver Robert Woods.
Syracuse starting strong safety Shamarko Thomas was hurt, so sophomore Jeremi Wilkes was in the game. Lane Kiffin and the Trojans targeted that spot for their first-and-10 play-call. The Orange were in Cover-2, so Wilkes and cornerback Kevyn Scott essentially had to divy up their resources to defend Woods and Telfer deep.
Of course, Wilkes chose to double-team Woods, leaving Telfer without a defender within five yards of him and as easy a catch as you'll ever see in college football. He tried to come back to Telfer once the ball was in the air from Barkley, but that was far too late. Telfer was already on his way to the end zone for the Trojans' first Woods-aided touchdown this season.
"All these defenses are just focused on Robert," No. 3 receiver Brandon Carswell said after the game. "You can definitely tell that they're shading a lot more towards his side. And it really opens it up.
"If they're gonna do that, then we have all these weapons that can go in there and catch the rock and do all that."
Utah employed many of the same tactics in defending Woods last week at the Coliseum, but USC finally demonstrated Saturday against Syracuse that it knows how to exploit that focus and allow its other receivers to embrace what Woods can do for them.
And so Woods had, technically, his worst game of the season against the Orange, accumulating only 82 yards through the air on eight catches. But, given the circumstances, it was almost up there with his 17-catch day in the season opener, because his presence created so many more catches for his teammates.
"People are taking Robert away," Kiffin said after Saturday's game. "Understand that Robert's still playing really well even though his numbers aren't the same as they were in the opener. But if you're put a corner inside of him and put a safety over the top of him when he's on the field all day long, it's gonna be hard.
"There's not too many plays to get a guy open [in that situation]. So what happens is that's where you see Randall Telfer run wide open in the middle of the field, because Robert is out there and there goes a safety over the top of Robert and there's Randall open."
Arizona State will see that play many times on film this next week, you can be sure. A perfect example of what can happen when you over-commit to Woods, the Sun Devils coaches will say. But that's not the only time it happened Saturday -- not even close. All game long the Trojans were taking advantage of the Woods factor and completing passes to the receiver or tight end lined up on the same side of the field.
"It happens quite often," Telfer said after the game, "Obviously Robert Woods isn't always a decoy. But sometimes it depends on which play is called and what the defense shows.
"And, depending on the safety rotation, that ball could have easily gone to Robert Woods."
Here's the thing, though. If the safety stays on Telfer, yes, the ball probably goes to Woods, covered one-on-one by Kevyn Thomas. But a wide-open receiver is almost always a better option than a covered receiver.
Touchdown, Woods -- er, Telfer.