When the Trojans suit up on September 1st against Hawai’i, they’ll presumably have a healthy tandem of receivers for Matt Barkley, with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. But after seeing them play together for just one season, can we already call them the best duo in school history? That’s hard to say.
Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE
In a blog post from yesterday, Michael Lev of the Orange County Register made the assertion that “Woods and Lee have the potential to surpass” the rest of the potent duos in USC history. Naturally, Lev pointed out Curtis Conway and Johnnie Morton from the ’90s, and Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith from the ’00s.
Can they be considered the best tandem in USC history? Sure, but let’s consider the context, in a four part series throughout the week. First up, let’s compare Woods and Lee to the aforementioned Curtis Conway and Johnnie Morton.
Conway and Morton were getting passes from a highly overrated Rob Johnson. If you want to argue the merit of calling him overrated, look up his stats as they compare to the SC quarterbacks of the last decade and become enlightened. In 1992, the last season that the two wideouts played together, Johnson threw just 12 touchdown passes and had 14 picks. Yes, 12 and 14. Moreover, Conway and Morton had nearly identical statistics, as they both had 49 catches for about the same yardage (764 vs. 756), while Morton caught six touchdowns to Conway’s five.
Conway was the flashy one, while Morton was the silky smooth possession receiver, and both were first round picks, in back-to-back drafts, in 1993 and 1994 respectively. If you want to break it down by NFL careers and draft prowess, without question, Conway and Morton was the best vocational receiver tandem in USC history. But, at face value, a combined 98 catches is not going to come close to being considered the best tandem in SC history, when you consider that Keyshawn Johnson matched their combined statistical output just three seasons later, in 1995, with arguably a less talented quarterback in Brad Otten.
When comparing Conway and Morton to Woods and Lee, it’s important to consider the offense as a whole, especially since the 2011 Trojans were a pass-first offense with plenty of weapons in the aerial game. Matt Barkley is a far superior quarterback to Rob Johnson, and he threw 161 more passes than Johnson, while throwing more than three times the touchdowns and half the number of interceptions. Looking at it that way, Conway and Morton were handcuffed in not only a more limited offensive system under Larry Smith, but had an inferior quarterback.
That’s got to cut them some slack to their numbers, and if you calculate their receiving statistics by the variance in pass attempts between Barkley and Johnson, 56 percent, they would have each had 75 catch seasons for about 1,200 yards. Those are the numbers that Woods and Lee can aim for in 2012, and probably very close to the benchmarks that Lane Kiffin and Tee Martin will set for the duo before the season.
Next, consider that while the 2011 Trojans were considered a pass happy bunch by modern standards, when comparing running back Curtis McNeal to Estrus Crayton, who started for the Trojans in 1992, McNeal looks like LenDale White. McNeal had 1,005 yards compared to Crayton’s even 700, but McNeal did it 38 fewer carries. Again, it’s a sign of how efficient and potent modern offenses are when compared to the past, and almost an indicator that statistics may be irrelevant, even just 19 yards apart. Oddly enough and as an interesting side note, Crayton is now one of the most decorated players in the history of the German Football League, according to a news brief from January 2011.
With the strong play of McNeal, Barkley was able to break the backs of defenses by being balanced and finding Woods and Lee down field. Johnson didn’t have that luxury, as Conway and Morton were the offense.
So do the players around the receivers matter and should they help determine the greatness of a receiving duo? I think when you break them down two decades apart, they surely play a role, in addition to the coaching style or offensive system. Robert Woods would have been lucky to catch 25 passes in a John McKay offense, and that’s not a knock on Woods or McKay, but a sign of the times and the progression of the game of college football.
Nonetheless, I’ll take Woods and Lee running deep routes for me over Curtis Conway and Johnnie Morton, for no other reason than the impact that Woods and Lee had the Trojans in 2011, was far superior to than that of Conway and Morton, even given the variances in offensive schemes.
But what do you have to say? Vote in our poll and leave your thoughts below, as to who you think is/was a better combo in USC history.
Which USC receiver tandem is better?