To NFL teams seeking talent at the wide receiver position: look no further than Stanford Stadium this Saturday.
When No. 13 Stanford and No. 14 USC clash to open conference play, two of the nation’s best receiving groups — if not the two very best — will be on full display.
Stanford’s wealth at the wide receiver position was widely discussed in the preseason and was certainly evident against UC-Davis, as senior Ty Montgomery showcased his Heisman-level talent and junior Michael Rector flew by the secondary for a 40-yard score, all with starting wide receiver Devon Cajuste, a senior, on the bench. Of course, there’s also senior Jordan Pratt, who seems to catch anything that comes his way, and explosive sophomore wideout Francis Owusu.
However, Stanford’s unit may have found its match in USC.
“They are up there, there’s no question about it,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw, when asked how USC’s receiving corps compares with others he’s faced. “They have all the things you’re looking for — they have size, they have speed, they have versatility, they can run after the catch, they can be physical blockers. If they’re not the best group, they might be the most complete as far as being able to do a little bit of everything.”
Despite graduating a game-breaking receiver in each of the last two seasons (second-round NFL Draft picks Robert Woods and Marqise Lee), USC boasts a deep, incredibly talented pool of wideouts with arguably even more star power at the top than it ever had with Woods and Lee.
Aided by last year’s leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, junior Nelson Agholor, USC posted 394 yards passing and had six different players record three receptions against Fresno State.
At the start of the season, the 6-foot-1 Agholor was named to several watch lists, including the one for the Walter Camp Award watch list, which is given to the player of the year in college football. Agholor, USC’s counter to Stanford’s Montgomery, had 918 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns last season in addition to a 19.8-yard punt return average and two punt return touchdowns.
Additionally, senior wide receiver George Farmer attended the same high school as Woods and Lee and was actually the best college prospect of the three receivers coming out of high school (the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2011), though he has battled injuries while at USC. His return from these injuries and his improving professional potential were documented in a recent Sports Illustrated feature.
6-foot-1 sophomore Darreus Rogers, who had 257 receiving yards as a freshman despite missing several games due to injury, and 6-foot-2 freshman JuJu Smith, who led the team with 123 receiving yards in week one, bring plenty of size to the group. On the other hand, 5-foot-11 freshman Adoree’ Jackson, the No. 6 recruit according to Yahoo, plays on both sides of the ball and brings his 4.4 40-yard dash speed to the offense.
Safe to say, Stanford’s secondary will have its hands full on Saturday, much like USC’s.
“[The defensive backs] are going to be challenged by really, really good receivers,” Shaw said.
However, in spite of USC’s exceptional talent at wide receiver, Stanford feels like its secondary is up to the task.
“I think [the secondary] matches up well. The bottom line though is being in position every play,” Shaw said. “You can match up physically but we all know if you are out of position on one play against a really good group of receivers, that’s a touchdown. Our guys know that every play we need to be in the right position, every play we need to make sure the ball’s getting funneled where we want it to get funneled and not going over our heads, and that’s team defense.”
With junior Alex Carter returning to his starting role after playing off the bench against UC-Davis in his return from a hip injury, Stanford’s secondary will be at full strength to face USC. That includes an improving Wayne Lyons, the senior cornerback starting opposite Carter, who had three tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble against UC-Davis.
“I think he’s confident now and I think he’s comfortable now. I think he understands the whole defense and not just his position anymore, which is huge, knowing where his help is coming from,” Shaw said of Lyons. “I think he’s been aggressive, he’s not shying away or trying to be careful. He’s playing physical and he’s playing smart but he’s also playing aggressively.”
At safety, next to senior leader and preseason All-American Jordan Richards, junior Zach Hoffpauir will earn his first collegiate start after excelling in his week one performance, which included a big hit that brought down a runner for a loss.
“[Hoffpauir’s] such a playmaker,” Shaw said at Tuesday’s press conference. “He’s so dynamic and he’s so explosive. He was great in the nickel. His speed and his physical nature are extremely impressive.”
Hoffpauir will split time at safety with fifth-year senior Kyle Olugbode and will also see time at nickelback along with senior Ronnie Harris, who returns to the nickelback position after starting at cornerback in week one.
Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.