Trojan Offense Opens Up With 'Robert Factor'
By Brian Price
Many factors - weather, crowd noise, injuries - can help crush a powerful opponent. However, for USC, The "Robert Factor" is driving opposing defenses crazy.
Robert is Robert Woods, the 2010's Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, who prides himself on his willingness to drop a shoulder on an opposing defender.
Head coach Lane Kiffin calls for the "Robert Factor" when opposing defenses change up their schemes in an attempt to contain Woods.
The Trojans' All-American receiver puts it like this: "We try to study a defense's tendencies on film. Once we get out there, they change what they do normally to try and stop me, but it leaves the other receivers and tight ends wide open."
The "Robert Factor" was in full effect in last week's contest against Syracuse. Tight end Randall Telfer was left virtually uncovered for a 44-yard touchdown when the safety left to cover Woods.
"I like being in the action and throwing a block," Woods says. "When I do, it gives me a chance to stand back [after] and watch the running back do his thing."
Woods grew up in a football family. Both his father and grandfather played defense at Grambling State.
"Originally I got into football as a defender," says Woods. "I played defensive end in Pop Warner for the Carson Colts. My father was a defensive back and taught me to never be scared of contact."
As a track star at Serra High School In Gardena, Calif., Woods also turned to former runners turned gridiron greats for inspiration.
"My freshman year in high school I started researching fast guys who went on to play college football--Reggie Bush, Ted Ginn Jr., and Jahvid Best--and decided I could use my speed to take things to another level."
The combination of speed and physical play proved to be a potent combination for Woods on the field.
He played both sides of the ball during his senior year in 2009 and helped lead Serra to a victory in the California state championship (a game where he racked up 226 all-purpose yards).
Now flourishing under the lights of the L.A. Coliseum, Woods is grateful for what he can do to open up the Trojan offense as a whole.
"If my play draws extra defenders it's going to make the assignments easier for other receivers," he says.
Freshman Marquise Lee, who attended Serra High with Woods, is also proving to be highly effective artillery for the Trojans.
"I'm very excited for Marquise, but even if I wasn't always double covered I believe he'd be doing the same thing in getting open and scoring. He's open, but he's still the one who has to find the gaps and holes in the defense and he does that," Woods says.
Woods believes if defenses want to keep blanketing him in coverage, the offense is going to "keep looking awesome." After a tight 19-17 win over Minnesota to open the season, the Trojans have scored 23 and 38 points in wins against Utah and Syracuse, respectively.
"Less penalties and better execution on third downs have been key," says Woods when explaining the Trojans upswing in scoring. "We're finding ourselves in more third-[and short] scenarios and we're finding ways to convert, keep the drive going, and ending with a score."
The Trojans lead the Pac-12 in 3rd down efficiency, converting 22 on 41 attempts, also good for 12th best in the nation.
Now a sophomore, Woods has spent his USC career making a mark on Trojan football. He was the first USC true freshman to start a season opener at wide receiver in the post-World War II era.
He has a chance to lead the nation in receptions, a feat that has never been accomplished by any Trojan receiver, a list that includes Keyshawn Johnson, Steve Smith, and Lynn Swann. Currently, Woods leads the nation with 33, 12 more receptions than second place.
For the Compton native, playing at home in L.A. was a major draw. Playing for an offensive-minded coach in Lane Kiffin sweetened the deal.
"When I found out he'd be coaching me at USC I was like, 'Let's go.' Coach Kiffin loves the receiver position. He loves airing it out," Woods says.
Establishing a game through the air is easy with a receiver like Woods, who also has great playing chemistry with 2010 All-Pac-10 honorable mention QB and Trojan captain, Matt Barkley.
"There's trust in our relationship," explains Woods. "If he has a defender in his face he needs to be able to [react], throw the ball up, and know that I'll be there. Timing, placement of the ball, and setting routes are all things we worked on together throughout the summer to get to where we are now."
The two clearly understand how to play within each other's game and have established a connection that most receivers and signal callers envy. For as many passing scenarios that exist there are just as many crucial location elements that can make or break a successful hook-up. Woods and Barkley are in sync when it comes to exploiting opposing defenses.
"On a crossing route or a deep route he loves to pinpoint a location to target," explains Woods. "If it's a flat safety on a slant I want the ball on my back shoulder [so my front shoulder is free] to take the contact."
Seventeen of Woods' receptions came in the season opener against Minnesota, a single-game record for most receptions in a game by a USC receiver.
"If the defender is playing back and giving me a lot of room, Matt knows to lead me [with the ball," Woods says. "If it's a comeback route he places the ball where I'm breaking away from the defender, so I can move right into my stride and run with the ball."
As for deep balls?
"Just air it and let me go get it," Woods says with a chuckle.
The No. 23-ranked Trojans take on Arizona State at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, a game with major implications in the Pac-12 South Division.