USC wide receiver coach Tee Martin has a challenging task at hand. With so many playmakers at the wide receiver position and a couple of impressive true freshmen, targets are hard to come by. One player might be targeted 10 times in one game, while the same player could find himself with no targets the next week. Martin’s job is to not only help his players progress, but to also be there as a trustworthy figure for his players who might be frustrated due to a lack of targets. It’s hard to make everybody happy in such a talented core.
Juju Smith had a breakout game to open up his college career and there’s no questioning his production has dipped since then. Martin isn’t worried though as he insists the offense is working towards the goal of winning the game, not giving certain players a specific amount of targets.
“He’s doing great,” Martin said. “He’s doing really good. He’s playing great. The ball has just got to get to him. We’re doing what we got to do to win the football games. Whether it’s him catching a lot of balls or him catching no balls, it’s doing what we got to do to win football games. He’s very, very valuable, even when the ball isn’t coming to him. He’s doing some really good things.”
Another freshman who has impressed the coaches so far is Ajene Harris. The former high school quarterback was slated to start the opening game of the season at the slot receiver position against Fresno State, but didn’t see the field often. However, Harris had his first solid showing of the season this past weekend against Oregon State as he caught three passes for 30-yards. Though he is out this week with a hamstring injury, Martin has been pleased with the true freshman.
“He’s doing good,” Martin said. “He’s a true freshman so you just got to keep him working. Got to keep him focused on getting better everyday, but he’s doing really good. He’s exceeded a lot of our expectations in terms of what he knows, his football knowledge, his work ethic, things like that which are allowing him to go out and play and play great.”
Usually, true freshmen come into college programs raw and most likely needing to redshirt for a year. However, USC has the ability to pull in a top-15 recruiting class nearly every year, which results in true freshmen who are ready to contend for playing time. In this case, Ajene Harris and JuJu Smith, along with Adoree Jackson, have all received ample playing time early in their careers. Martin says he’s happy to have the trio at the wide receiver position.
“We’ve been blessed that these two true freshmen are really mature,” Martin said. “These guys are really mature. I guess it’s the preparation week in and week out and how game planning is different than camp installation. Camp installation is about the concepts, teaching the concepts, whereas the game plan is, you know, that’s the concept, we may do that in a different personnel, we may do that in a different formation. There are some nuances and details that change from week to week based on who your opponent is that sometimes freshmen have to get used to. But we’ve been fortunate with these two young ones. They’re doing a really good job and I’ll include Adoree in that mix with him playing both ways. He’s been doing an excellent job too.”
Although it seems like the season just started, it’s already a third of the way over with. The Trojans have played four games and have eight remaining. As a whole, Martin has been impressed with his receivers, but he still thinks there is room for improvement.
“They’re doing good,” Martin said. “We continue to get better week in and week out. Playing some young guys Saturday. Starting two true freshmen in Ajene and JuJu, but they went out and played excellent and did some good things. But still, just challenging the guys to get better everyday. There’s always something to work on. Each week brings a new challenge. I see the guys getting better every week. I like the way they’re competing. I like how tough they’re playing, how physical they’re playing. We just want to continue to build on that.”
Nelson Agholor is the senior member of this wide receiving core. Although he’s only a junior, Agholor was expected to be the leader of this group on and off the field heading into the season. It’s been an up and down season for Agholor and he’s been trying to show he’s worthy of the 1st-round grade given to him by many of the draft analysts across the nation. Martin knows what he has in Agholor and simply thinks Agholor just needs to continue to improve.
“Just continue to get better,” Martin said about Agholor. “Nelson is consistent. We know what he is. He’s a big play guy for us. Mr. Reliable. But he’s playing great. We’re just doing what it takes to win football games right now. We’re not trying to set records for who catches the most balls for the most yards. We’re trying to win games. So sometimes like you see against Stanford, he had nine catches, but it didn’t take that to win against Oregon State. So whatever it takes. Whoever we got to get the ball to to win, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Arizona State makes their way into the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon for a matchup of two of the top teams in the Pac-12 South, and Martin says it will be a tough match up against the Sun Devils, despite their tackling woes.
“They do a good job,” Martin said. “I think, with their head coach calling it, those guys are aggressive. They like to put pressure on quarterbacks. They like to play some man coverage outside, which that’s been their M.O. over the years. It’s going to be a challenge for us at receiver to win those match ups. We know what they’re going to do. He doesn’t change much, they kind of are what they are. We look forward to this challenge. It should be a good one for us.”