USC wide receiver not dead wood

Jonathan Kuperberg

Following a losing season in 2010 and in the midst of a 2011 campaign that doesn’t seem that much more promising, Cal football fans can still take solace in one person — Keenan Allen.

The sophomore wide receiver has lived up to his five-star billing so far in the season’s first five games. He’s fifth in the country in receiving yards with 668. His 90-yard touchdown reception against Washington was the longest in program history. Four of the five games, he garnered more than 100 yards receiving, and the fifth game was against Presbyterian, when Allen did not play the entire game.

For all intents and purposes, Allen is one of the best players in the country.

But he’s not the best receiver in the country. He’s not the best receiver in the Pac-12 either. He’s not even the best sophomore receiver in the conference.

That title belongs to USC’s Robert Woods.

Woods has been the light in the Trojans’ otherwise dark, sanction-filled seasons. He won pretty much every freshman award possible in 2010, namely Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year and Freshman First Team All-American. He started every game, becoming the first freshman to start a season opener at wide receiver for USC since World War II. He also set a Trojan freshman record with 1,817 all-purpose yards (he returned kickoffs too).

Yet he’s been even better this season.

He’s established himself as the top receiver in the nation. Although Woods ranks third in the country with 747 receiving yards, the two players ahead of him have both played one more game than him.

The Carson, Calif. native is also a matchup nightmare. At 6-foot-1, he possesses length to go along with his breakaway speed — he returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown last season.

So what does this mean for Cal? It means the defense, the secondary in particular, is in big trouble.

A year after ranking first in the conference in pass defense, the Bears have slipped. Take away the Presbyterian game and the unit is among the Pac-12’s worst. Cal couldn’t stop Colorado’s Tyler Hansen and Paul Richardson back in September. How will the Bears stop USC’s Matt Barkley, an elite quarterback, and Woods? In short, they won’t.

To make matters even worse, Cal cornerback Marc Anthony separated his shoulder in the Oregon game last week and true freshman Stefan McClure will take his place in the starting lineup. McClure was a highly touted recruit — ranked fourth at his position, according to scout.com — but he’s young and inexperienced. He played his first major meaningful minutes at corner while filling in for Anthony against the Ducks, and the results weren’t exactly spectacular. All three of Oregon’s touchdown passes came in the second half after Anthony went down.

McClure will also likely be guarding, or attempt to guard, Robert Woods. Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has his cornerbacks guard the receiver on a specific side of the field, not a specific player. Cal’s other cornerback, Steve Williams, will surely get his share of reps defending Woods, but it would make sense for USC to match Woods up with McClure.

Against the Bears last year, Woods caught seven passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

Expect more of the same this year.