Woods answers challenge against Minnesota

Woods has 17 receptions against Golden Gophers, breaking Johnnie Morton's 1993 school record of 15, as Trojans escape with season-opening win.

LOS ANGELES – In a team meeting before the season opener against Minnesota, USC coaches challenged sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods to break the single-game receptions record set by Johnnie Morton in 1993 with 15 catches against Houston.

It's a good thing Woods decided to follow through Saturday, posting 17 receptions for 177 yards and three first-half touchdowns as the Trojans held on for an ignominious 19-17 win over the Golden Gophers at the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.

Junior quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 304 yards on 34 of 45 passing and connected with Woods on scores of seven, 43 and two yards as USC (1-0) jumped to a 19-3 lead, only to need an interception by cornerback Torin Harris with 53 seconds left to play to hold on for dear life.

To say USC head coach Lane Kiffin and players were confused by the outcome would be an understatement.

"I felt like the game was a lot farther apart than the score was," left tackle Matt Kalil said. "I felt like we were really dominating them."

"It doesn't have that satisfying feeling of ‘Yeah, we just dominated that game,' said Barkley, who set a new school record for completions, breaking Todd Marinovich's 1989 mark against Notre Dame.

The only thing dominant was Woods, who abused the Minnesota (0-1) secondary in every way imaginable. Even his second touchdown came with Gophers safety Kim Royston draped all over him in the end zone, drawing flag for a pass interference but still making the catch.

"He is a smart, cerebral player who has mastered the playbook, know defenses and how to get open," Barkley said.

Woods, who starred at Gardena (Calif.) Serra before earning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors last season, downplayed the chances his nationally televised effort might vault him into Heisman Trophy contention, even with the Twitter handle ‘HeismanWoods.'

He was more interested in relaying an inside joke with fellow Serra standout Marqise Lee, who started as a true freshman opposite Woods and had five receptions for 32 yards.

The two were sitting together when coaches first mentioned the record.

"Marqise looked at me and said, ‘I think he was talking to me," said Woods, who also tied another single-game record with his three scoring catches.

Making his performance even more impressive, Woods did his damage with a burst bursa sac in his right elbow.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder did most of his damage in the first half, with 11 receptions for 115 yards. The Gophers switched to a Cover Two defense approach after the break, also assigning a safety to Woods.

But that wasn't what made the game close. The offense fell apart with inopportune penalties, converted just three of nine third-down opportunities and gifted the Gophers a score when center Khaled Holmes snapped a ball over Barkley's head on fourth down and outside linebacker Mike Rallis recovered at the USC 30.

Running back Duane Bennett scored on a nine-yard touchdown two plays later to pull within nine points.

Freshman quarterback Max Shortell, replacing an injured MarQueis Gray, added a 12-yard score to Brandon Green in the fourth quarter, but was picked off trying to mount a potential game-winning drive.

Shortell was 7 of 13 for 98 yards, while Gray was 7 of 12 for 94 yards and added 47 yards rushing.

Kiffin was pleased with the defense, which allowed 302 yards and finally came up with a late-game stop after wilting against Washington, Stanford and Notre Dame last season.

His biggest issues were with the offense, trying to reconcile how Woods and Barkley's statistical feats produced just three touchdowns.

"That's what is really confusing about this," Kiffin said. "Outside of the bad snap, you don't turn the ball over all day. You give up no sacks. Usually the game is not looking like this."

USC has one week to get on track before hosting Utah in the first-ever Pac-12 conference game next Saturday. Kiffin said a repeat performance wouldn't be enough to knock off the Utes, who struggled in a 27-10 win Thursday over Montana State.

Of course, Woods can always top himself.

"He'll always do something amazing," Lee said. "Like this year and even like he did last year, he's always going to come out and give the crowd a show.

"That's what he does."

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