USC cornerback Isiah Wiley, a transfer from juco Arizona Western College, has played significant snaps in two games this season, and the two have been the Trojans' best defensive performances of the year.
Is there a correlation between the two? Most signs point to yes, but Wiley says no.
"Naaaah," Wiley says, smiling. "I don't think so. I think guys are just stepping up because they know how important these last couple games have been. Everybody's finally stepping up and the defense is finally coming together."
That's probably true, but the 6-1, 185-pound Wiley has a bigger part in that than he's willing to admit. Since he began playing nickel corner in the Cal game two weeks ago, the Trojans have allowed just two offensive touchdowns and have upped the ante on their run defense even more.
And, what's more, they faced three dominant receivers in the two games, yet only one of them went off: Cal's Keenan Allen. It was a big change from the second game of the year, when Utah's DeVonte Christopher -- a lower-rated player than all three guys USC's faced recently -- found plenty of receiving room against the Trojans and finished with 11 catches for 136 yards.
The difference is easily discernible. In that game, Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow did everything he could on every play-call to get Christopher away from USC No. 1 corner Nickell Robey at the line of scrimmage. When he was isolated one-on-one with then-starter Torin Harris or nickel back Tony Burnett, Jordan Wynn delivered a pass to him time and time again.
USC's second and third corners were torn up, consistently.
Enter Wiley, who first started to shine during the bye week after the squeak-by win over Arizona earlier this month. He's inexperienced at this level, sure, but he just doesn't get flat-out beat as easily as those two. He hangs around the receivers much longer, hasn't gotten speed-burned yet and can make an open-field tackle if he needs to.
It's clearly what head coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans envisioned when they recruited him out of junior college as a prospective early enrollee. Wiley would enroll in January, learn the defense in spring practice and start right away in September.
But that got delayed when Wiley had to finish a class back home and couldn't enroll full-time at USC. Instead, he arrived in June, learned some of the defense during summer workouts and tried his best to wing it when fall camp began.
It didn't always go so well. He was buried fifth on the depth chart, behind Harris, Burnett and Anthony Brown, and his only playing time came on special teams.
Kiffin has repeatedly cited his late arrival as the primary reason for his sudden come-on over the last few weeks. He really did start to appear a different player during the bye, picking off multiple passes and no longer finding himself out of position.
That's been the case in games too. USC's head coach likes to term it like this: He's been quietly, surprisingly producitv
"He has, especially because he wasn’t playing much," Kiffin said Wednesday. "It’s not like he was playing 30 snaps a game. He really wasn’t playing at all. He really has done a good job for us.
"It’s a good thing when his name’s not being called very much."
It's a good thing for USC, and it's a good thing for Wiley, who clearly wants to avoid the spotlight.
And what's his reasoning for the defense's sudden success, completely unrelated to his own arrival on the squad?
"I feel like we're playing more aggressive," Wiley says. "Just unleashing the dogs. Just playing football."
"I guess our opponent allows us to step our game up, step up in the moment and make the plays we need to make to win the game."
By that reasoning, then, Stanford should allow the Trojans to be their most aggressive yet. Correct?
"Yep," Wiley said, smiling again. "Definitely."