Trojans receiver Robert Woods breaks away from Arizona cornerback Trevin… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Robert Woods lined up in the USC backfield at one point Saturday, triggering panic among Arizona's defenders.
"Woods! Woods! Woods!" the Wildcats barked.
Shadowing the Trojans receiver was possible … until the ball was snapped. Then the sophomore continually baffled his opponents.
He turned short catches into big plays. He forced safeties to all but ignore other receivers. He transformed the Coliseum into his oversized playground during USC's 48-41 victory.
"He tore our zone up, man," cornerback Shaquille Richardson said. "He went for how many yards? A lot."
Woods caught 14 passes for a career-high 255 yards, accounting for more than half of quarterback Matt Barkley's school-record 468 yards passing. It was the third-highest single-game receiving total in USC history and only five yards short of matching the record R. Jay Soward set against UCLA in 1996.
With less than two minutes to play, Coach Lane Kiffin tried to help Woods set the record. Kiffin called a fourth-down play in which Barkley was supposed to find Woods in the flat. But Barkley instead threw a pass to Brandon Carswell that fell incomplete, and that was that.
"That wasn't the goal," Woods said of setting the record. "The goal was to get the first down."
Pretty much everything else went right for Woods. He scored an 82-yard touchdown in the first quarter on a play that Arizona had aligned its defense to stop.
Woods took a short pass from Barkley, slipped a tackle and picked up blocks from Carswell and Brice Butler on the way to the end zone. It was the longest pass play for the Trojans since Carson Palmer connected with Kareem Kelly for a 93-yard touchdown against Oregon in September 2001.
"We should be in the perfect defense for that play," Coach Mike Stoops said, "and for whatever reason we weren't in position or somebody missed a tackle."
Covering Woods became such a priority that Wildcats defenders occasionally overlooked other receivers. Both safeties shifted to Woods' side of the field on a play late in the first quarter, leaving Marqise Lee open to make a 38-yard touchdown reception that gave the Trojans a 17-0 lead.
"They all went to his side," Barkley said of Woods. "They're definitely game-planning for him."
Nothing the Wildcats tried worked. Woods also made a 28-yard touchdown catch on the Trojans' first drive of the third quarter, extending their lead to 34-12.
But Arizona wasn't the first team that struggled to contain the former Gardena Serra High standout. Woods' 55 catches this season are the most for any USC receiver in a five-game stretch.
"He always does things to surprise me," said Lee, who finished with a career-high 144 yards receiving. "Every week, it's new to me. I've seen it before, but it's like I see it again and it's just amazing."
Woods feels the same way about his success.
"It's not expected or anything," he said. "I just come in and play my role and it happens to work out like that."