LOS ANGELES — A hobbled Marqise Lee made his way inside the USC huddle toward the end of Saturday night’s game against Stanford and told his quarterback Cody Kessler he had “one more play” left in him.
Lee lined up in the slot on the right side of the formation. There was one minute and 23 seconds left in regulation with the game tied 17-17 and USC facing a 4th and 2 at the Cardinal 48-yard line.
Lee, as best he could, ran toward the first-down marker and stepped inside his defender up the seam where Kessler found him for a 13-yard gain to keep the Trojans drive alive and set up the eventual Andre Heidari 47-yard game-winning field goal in the Trojans’ 20-17 upset of then-No. 4 Stanford.
Lee absolutely had to be in the game for the fourth-down play. Sitting out and watching from the sidelines was not an option.
“You’re trying to get a first down,” Lee said. “What? Ain’t no sitting out.”
Three plays earlier, the USC training staff was on the field looking at Lee who was down after being kicked in the shin. Lee eventually limped off of the field under his own strength.
The one more play Lee had left in him, it turns out, happened to be the most crucial play of the Trojans’ season to this point.
In what has been a down season for the wide receiver who’s missed games due to injury, Saturday night Lee flashed the brilliance that made him the Biletnikoff Award winner last season.
“I felt good,” Lee said. “I felt relaxed and just ready to go.
“I had the right mindset for this game.”
Lee’s had games this season with more catches and more yards but the six catches for 83 yards he posted against the Cardinal all seemed to come at the right time.
His brilliance was shown from the beginning.
On the Trojans opening drive, Lee helped move the sticks on a third down by catching a pass while falling out of bounds and was able to get both feet down at the Stanford one-yard line.
That set up a Soma Vainuku one-yard touchdown reception.
To cap the next drive, Lee caught a two-point conversion in the back of the end zone. In a GIF that has made its rounds on social media, it shows Lee got both feet down before going out of bounds and helping the officials make the decision that it was, in fact, a catch.
Lee has epitomized that so far through three games. The USC junior is averaging 16.8 yards per reception this month. Up from the 13.7 he’s averaging on the season. He also scored one of his two touchdowns this month.
It’s one of many reasons that has led to USC’s turnaround this season.
“In our mindset the sky always been the limit,” he said. “Now everybody else knows.”