- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- On USC's second offensive play this season, Robert Woods ran a curl route, hauled in a 9-yard pass and was hit by Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire, who jarred the ball loose.
Woods, doing his best David Tyree impression, simply snatched the ball with his right hand and pinned it to the back of his helmet while falling out of bounds. He got up, pigskin secured in his palm, and handed the ball back to the official.
On Notre Dame's first play in Week 4, Michael Floyd ran a drag route, had a pass bounce off his right shoulder at the line of scrimmage, absorbed a hit, tipped the ball in front of him with his left hand before securing it and then left Pitt's Tristan Roberts behind for an 11-yard gain and a first down.
The potential for those kind of jaw-dropping plays will be high this Saturday, when Woods and Floyd take the field under the lights in what will be a showcase of two of the college game's best receivers.
"He's fast and he's really elusive and breaks tackles a lot and can see the whole field," Floyd said of Woods, "which makes him a good football player and also a great wide receiver."
Woods' 60 catches and 783 receiving yards are good for second and fifth in the nation, respectively. Floyd's 53 catches for 639 yards rank eighth and 13th.
"Not easier, but yeah, it helps a lot," Gary Gray said of facing Floyd every day in practice. "Floyd's one of the best receivers in the country, so whenever I get a chance to go against him I go against him every day, so it helps me out a lot."
Floyd has broken virtually every school receiving mark through six games of his senior season. Woods, only a sophomore, looks poised to do the same for USC.
In fact, through five games, Woods appeared headed for a few national receiving marks as well. His 14-catch, 255-yard performance in a win over Arizona had him atop the national statistics and on pace or within striking distance of several single-season records.
After an uncharacteristic five-catch, 36-yard game against Arizona, he may have to settle for USC's single-season catch record of 102, set by Keyshawn Johnson.
"I would say that he's got a unique ability to run fast and catch," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "He's got not only long-speed but short-space quickness. So he can get open based on speed just in tight quarters. He can also gas it past you. And then he's got something very unique to the position. He has tackle-break ability.
"So not just make you miss, but he's got tackle-break ability. He's got a violent strong stiff arm. He's a leg-drive player. He's got contact balance. He can give with impact and continue to gas it."
Floyd had one blemish through six games as well, grabbing just four passes for 27 yards at Pitt, and the low numbers suggested the Panthers possibly developed a blueprint for stopping him.
A 12-catch, 137-yard performance a week later at Purdue proved otherwise, and Irish cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks won't count on one bad performance signaling the slowing down of Woods, either.
"Cal looked like to me like they just played their defense," Cooks said. "I didn't see a lot of brackets, I didn't see a lot of double-teams, and USC, they took their shots down the field and they made a lot of them and Cal came up with a few of them. But they didn't do anything special. As you review the tape I think again, they make it so hard to put in certain coverages because if you try to double Woods then they're gonna go backside to Marquise Lee.
"Their tight ends are guys that can stretch the field. They've got capable running backs back there. So again there's no magical coverage, we've just gotta be sound in what we do."
Cooks said seeing Floyd every day can help prepare his cornerbacks, but acknowledged he is a different receiver from Woods, who is 44 pounds lighter and two inches shorter than the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Floyd.
Regardless, the capabilities of Woods and Floyd are enough to give defensive coaches headaches in the days before facing either one.
"He'll line up as a running back, he'll line up as a fullback, he'll line up as a tight end," Cooks said of Woods. "They move him around, so you can't really get a beat on him to where you'd like to be able to run some combination coverages and maybe potentially bracket the guy. You can't do that. He's at the No. 1 spot, he's at the No. 2, he's at the No. 3. He's at the fullback spot. So they do an excellent job of moving him around, and obviously his play-making ability when he has the ball in his hands is exceptional."