LOS ANGELES – There’s only one football to go around.
And it’s not headed in the direction of Robert Woods very much these days.
The Pac-12 conference’s single-season record holder for receptions has gotten off to a slow start.
At this point last season, Woods had 41 catches and four touchdowns en route to a record 111 receptions. As No. 13 USC heads into a Thursday night affair in Salt Lake City, Woods has four touchdowns but 16 less catches. By comparison, it took him just two games to reach 25 receptions last season.
So how do they get him more touches?
USC coach Lane Kiffin admitted they could try to get Woods involved early but defenses have done a good job of taking him away. The Trojans, on a weekly basis, are seeing defenses that weren’t on film during their preparation. The schemes are geared towards shutting down Woods and Marqise Lee.
“I think we’ve established more of a two-high passing scheme that wasn’t really there in the first couple of weeks when we were forced to run the ball,” quarterback Matt Barkley said. “His plays will come.”
For his part, Woods continues to put forth great effort. While his numbers have diminished, his play hasn’t.
“He’s good,” said USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin. “He’s actually playing great honestly (if) you watch him on tape. He’s doing a great job. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, they’re not secrets anymore. Last season people were rolling coverage to Robert and then it allowed Marqise to have the year that he had. Now it’s like ‘we have to maintain both of these guys.’
“I think that people have brought more attention to No. 2 but he’s still getting open. He’s still running great routes. We just got to give him the ball a little bit more and see what happens.”
With the ways defenses have adjusted to take away the USC passing game, Barkley admitted his patience is being tested.
For Woods, he says he’s OK and no frustration has set in.
“Not at all,” Woods said. “I’m just trying to still get open and sit in certain holes that they’re giving me. I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunities that I do get.”
Woods’ sink in production is a byproduct of the USC offense. The group that simply made throwing and catching look easy to close the 2011 season hasn’t quite looked as dangerous in 2012. As a playcaller, Kiffin appeared to dial up all of the right plays as the USC offense flowed free and easy at the end of the 2011 season. This season, however, it’s been more stop-and-go and far from picking up where they left off last season.
“We did have an offseason in between,” Woods said. “It’s not like we’re just going to start right back up. We got the same guys pretty much. It needs to trigger in our head that we got to get going. It’s time. I feel like our offense could play a lot better than it has been playing.”
In regards to Woods, Kiffin points out his star receiver hasn’t had a full week of practice all season. During camp, Woods often would practice just once during two-a-days since after missing the entire spring recovering from ankle surgery and was limited during the summer.
Once the regular season started, Woods normally gets a Wednesday or Thursday off.
“Anytime that a guy never really practices a full week, which he doesn’t, there’s always a day that we have to give him off,” Kiffin said, “It’s going to affect you.”
Woods says not practicing a full week is something he’s accustomed to and something he’s been doing since his freshman year.
With all of the time he missed during the offseason along with missing practice time during the week can disrupt timing between Woods and Barkley, but Martin says it’s not enough of a reason to point to Woods’ numbers being low through four games.
“Being a former quarterback, you’d like to have your guy out there (at practice) but you also like to have him on Saturday too,” Martin said.