Sep 26, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) reacts against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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After announcing his departure for the 2017 NFL Draft following a Rose Bowl win, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s prolific USC career ended on a high note. These are his best moments.
When JuJu Smith-Schuster signed with USC in 2014 out of Long Beach Poly, he was a two-way playmaker that made people question where he would play in college. Would he be a safety? Could he stick it out on defense?
Steve Sarkisian planted him firmly on the offense during his first fall camp and he’d never look back. In three seasons, Smith-Schuster totaled 213 receptions for 3,032 yards and 25 touchdowns, ranking fourth, fifth and fifth on USC’s all-time lists.
While a senior season would likely cement him as the Trojans’ all-time leading receiver, three stellar years will have to do. Smith-Schuster will go into the 2017 NFL Draft as one of the most coveted receivers on the big board.
Why? Because of moments like these, his best as a USC Trojan…
Record Debut vs. Fresno State (2014)
Taking over Marqise Lee’s No. 9 jersey at USC in 2014, the JuJu Smith-Schuster era started out quickly and historically. Although he committed a penalty on the game’s opening kickoff, he set a school record for receiving yards by a debuting freshman with 123 vs. Fresno State in Week 1.
Smith-Schuster, who started the game at receiver and had the first target of the game, made his biggest contribution with a 53-yard reception from Cody Kessler late in the first quarter. The play, his third catch of the day, set up what would be USC’s third touchdown drive to begin the game.
The Trojans would ultimately beat Fresno State 52-13, while Smith-Schuster, then known as just JuJu Smith, would haul in 54 catches and five touchdowns during his freshman season.
October 24, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) tuns the ball against the defense of Utah Utes defensive back Tevin Carter (9) during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Stiff Arm vs. Utah (2015)
Smith-Schuster’s sophomore season started with a bang, with five 100-yard receiving game in the first seven weeks of the season. He had at least 82 yards in each game and had become a serious candidate for the Bilnetnikoff Award, given to the nation’s best wide receiver.
But it was during a late October upset win over No. 3 and previously undefeated Utah that would prove to be his most memorable contribution of the season.
After receiving a short pass on the perimeter from Kessler, Smith-Schuster eyed Ute defensive back Dominique Hatfield, pointed at him and then threw him off the field with his free hand for a stiff arm.
The play ignited the USC sideline and went viral on social media during and after the game. In the days following, Smith-Schuster posted a Vine mocking Hatfield, which included a clip of the Utah corner bragging that the Utes had the best defense in the nation.
Nov 7, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) carries the ball against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Broken Hand vs. Arizona (2015)
Jack Youngblood played with a broken leg and Curt Schilling pitched in the ALCS with a bloody sock. In November 2015, JuJu Smith-Schuster added his name to the All-Warrior Team by playing through the pain of a broken hand vs. Arizona.
He suffered the injury a week prior at Cal and subsequently required midweek surgery that placed both a screw and plate into his hand for stabilization.
Smith-Schuster not only didn’t miss any time, but he lit the Wildcats up for 138 receiving yards and a touchdown, while making eight predominantly one-handed catches. With his hand wrapped and taped heavily into an open-handed cast, it was a minor miracle he could catch anything, especially after he noted how much pain was involved.
The touchdown, a 72-yard strike on a deep ball from Kessler, helped spearhead a turnaround for the Trojans after trailing by as many as 14 points in the game. USC would wind up winning 38-30 for their third-straight win under interim head coach Clay Helton.
Sep 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) celebrates after scoring a touchdown pass against the Utah State Aggies during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Utah State 45-7. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Block vs. Utah State (2016)
Receivers exist to catch passes and JuJu Smith-Schuster caught his fair share at USC, totalling 213 in his Trojan career. So it stands out when one of the most memorable plays in such an illustrious career wasn’t a reception, but a block.
When USC faced off with Utah State in Week 2 of 2016, the Trojans had some frustrations to take out on the Aggies following their unraveling at the hands of Alabama the week before.
Smith-Schuster certainly didn’t hold back when USC was at the goal line with seconds remaining in the first half and looking to extend their lead to three scores.
Max Browne was able to swing a pass out to Deontay Burnett at the 10 yard line after a botched snap, but a Utah State defender was closing in on the sophomore wide out. That’s when Smith-Schuster struck, shooting back like a missile to block Utah State’s Dallin Leavitt with enough force to send the safety flying away from the play.
Though Leavitt remained down after the play, it was a perfectly legal shot, with Smith-Schuster’s shoulder popping the defender in the chest. And it’s a signature play to show his style as a receiver, always willing to put his body on the line, whether playing through injury or laying out to supply a block for a teammate.
Oct 1, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) runs the ball for a touchdown during the second half against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Triple vs. ASU (2016)
The 2016 season didn’t start the way USC or Smith-Schuster would have wanted it, from a team or individual perspective. While the Trojans went 1-3 to start the season, he had 19 catches for just 197 yards, including particularly quiet outings in critical games against Alabama and Stanford.
In Week 5 against Arizona State, Smith-Schuster finally launched his junior season in the same week USC began their nine-game winning streak. The junior wide out caught seven passes on the day, tallying 123 yards and three touchdowns in style.
The first two scores helped the Trojans build a healthy lead on ASU as Sam Darnold hit Smith-Schuster on a five-yard slant at the goal line. The quarterback linked back up with his top receiver again in the second quarter on a coverage breakdown in the back of the end zone when Smith-Schuster was left totally uncovered.
His brightest moment came via a 67-yard touchdown early in the third quarter — a play that was vintage Smith-Schuster. Taking a short pass from Darnold just beyond the line of scrimmage, he made a man miss then sped away.
He cut across a valley in the middle of the ASU defense from right to left, ending up on the far sideline where he galloped into the end zone for the score which all but ended the contest.
Oct 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) is pursued by Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon (23) in the fourth quarter during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Colorado 21-17. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Clinching Slide vs. Colorado (2016)
It’s readily apparent that Smith-Schuster is a gifted athlete, but during USC’s victory over Colorado he showed off an underrated part of his game — his intelligence.
The junior contributed in a big way to that victory, despite not finding the endzone. He topped 100 yards with five catches at the Coliseum, all of which resulted in first downs for the Trojans. The most critical of those first downs came in the final two minutes of the game when USC held a four-point lead over the highly-ranked Buffaloes.
Facing a third-and-seven with a minute and a half to go, Smith-Schuster caught Sam Darnold’s pass right at the sticks, but was able to lose his defender turning up field with green grass in front of him. The receiver could have easily turned on the burners and put seven on the board, but knowing the situation, Smith-Schuster went down on purpose at the 15-yard line.
He had been around for USC’s 2014 implosion against Arizona State, when the Sun Devils scored 14 points in the final three minutes of the game for a stunning victory. They had that sort of time to overcome the deficit, in part, because Buck Allen scored a long touchdown in the waning minutes.
So he didn’t leave anything to chance, opting to let his team run the clock to zero rather than scoring and putting the ball back in Colorado’s hands with the possibility of a quick touchdown and an onside kick recovery.
It’s not the sort of moment that makes it onto the box score, but it guaranteed a USC win over the eventual Pac-12 South champs.
Oct 15, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) scores a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Dominance vs. Arizona (2016)
Two weeks after his three-touchdown demolition of ASU, Smith-Schuster locked in his dominance over programs from the Copper State by putting in a repeat performance against the Arizona Wildcats.
In fact, he one-upped his previous three-score outing with perhaps his most impressive collection of the catches on the season, starting the road trip by jogging a routine screen pass into the end zone from three yards out.
From there the level of difficulty on his touchdowns rose considerably.
With half a minute remaining in the half, Smith-Schuster caught what should have been a short first down conversion around the 30-yard line. However, instead of stepping out of bounds, USC’s No. 9 avoided a tackle and surged up the sideline for more yards.
At the 10 yard line a crowd of bodies should have stopped his progression, but Smith-Schuster stayed on his feet and kept going, bouncing away and reaching out for the end zone to complete the 39-yard score.
Of course, he wasn’t done either. In the second half, he scored on 46-yard deep shot from Darnold. The pass was thrown slightly too far inside, so an Arizona defender had a shot at intercepting, but Smith-Schuster went up higher and stronger. He hauled in the catch and stayed upright to stride the extra five yards to complete the scoring play.
When it was all over, the receiver had nine catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns..
Nov 19, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) UCLA Bruins defensive back Nate Meadors (22) after a first down in the first quarter of the game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Zombie JuJu vs. UCLA (2016)
Always known for playing through ailments, nothing encapsulated Smith-Schuster’s career like his 2016 game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl. He’d suffer or re-aggravate multiple injuries in the game, and still kept coming back for more.
The highlight came in the second quarter when he leaped inside the five-yard line to make a spectacular leaping catch down the sideline to win a one-on-one battle in the air, and nearly got to the pylon for a touchdown. He’d be ruled down at the one-yard line, setting up a Ronald Jones touchdown run.
But in the process of the play that Randy Moss would drool over on ESPN two days later, Smith-Schuster suffered a hip pointer injury. Although he briefly left the game to pave the way for De’Quan Hampton’s two touchdown, he returned, even with a vague limp and hitch in his step.
Still dealing with back spasms that arose against Arizona, Smith-Schuster played through to the fourth quarter of USC’s 36-14 win, finishing with eight hard-fought catches for 76 yards.
Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) makes a catch for a touchdown against Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Christian Campbell (1) during the third quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The 2nd Half of the Rose Bowl (2017)
Smith-Schuster’s USC career came to a close in the most dramatic of ways, with USC securing a last-second win in the Rose Bowl over Penn State. It couldn’t have happened without JuJu.
The junior wide receiver had arguably the best game of the season, catching passes for 133 yards and a touchdown.
The score came midway through the third quarter during the most trying of times, as the Trojans trailed by 15 points following a disastrous 28-0 Penn State run.
Smith-Schuster ran a post past corner Christian Campell and Sam Darnold found him as he turned loose in the end zone for the touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, he’d come up even bigger. With USC down 14 points, he started both scoring drives with catches.
But the highlight reel play came as he streaked down the Rose Bowl’s west sideline –just as he did earlier in the game, and against UCLA a month prior– to make a leaping catch at the three-yard line.
Initially ruled out of bounds, it was overturned after footage of Smith-Schuster’s foot appeared to be in bounds, and ultimately set up a Ronald Jones touchdown run on the next play.
The Trojans won on the final play of the game with a Matt Boermeester field goal, giving this version of the No. 9 a Rose Bowl trophy Marqise Lee never had the opportunity of winning. Records aside, that’s a pretty perfect ending for JuJu Smith-Schuster.