LOS ANGELES (AP) Robert Woods is wearing down in the final weeks of his record-setting season at Southern California.
The 18th-ranked Trojans’ top receiver missed practice Wednesday to rest an accumulation of injuries, and coach Lane Kiffin thinks the problems with Woods’ ankle and shoulder might keep him out of USC’s upcoming visit to No. 4 Oregon.
“You just look at the last two games and you look at (Tuesday) in practice, he’s going in the wrong direction,” Kiffin said. “Even though we’ve limited his practice, he’s not getting better. So hopefully this will help, and if he can’t go this week, at least with the weekend off, hopefully he’ll be back close to full speed for UCLA.”
Although Woods still insists he’ll play, the sophomore star’s injuries could be bad news for the Trojans (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) in their latest attempt to keep up with the Ducks (9-1, 7-0), who have won three of the West Coast powers’ last four meetings.
Woods is fourth in the FBS with 92 receptions and 11 touchdown catches during one of the best seasons by a receiver in USC history. The Biletnikoff Award semifinalist also is seventh in the nation with 1,126 yards receiving despite making just two catches for 5 yards – both season lows – against Washington last weekend.
“He’s not 100 percent,” quarterback Matt Barkley said. “I wouldn’t say it affects our offense as a whole … but it’s always better to have him in there, obviously.”
Although the bowl-banned Trojans have only two games left, Woods has a good chance to surpass Keyshawn Johnson’s record 102-catch season in 1995, still the best in USC and Pac-12 history. He was on pace to challenge Johnnie Morton’s record 1,520 yards receiving for USC in 1993 and the league-record 1,532 yards by Oregon State’s Mike Hass in 2005 before last weekend, but would need two huge games to get there now.
Kiffin said Woods “shouldn’t have been playing in that game” against the Huskies, but insisted on staying in the lineup.
“We’ve got service-team corners that he can’t run by right now,” Kiffin said. “He’s just worn down, and the kid is trying to do everything he can, but when you have an ankle and a shoulder, you can’t generate much power. A lot of kids wouldn’t even be playing right now. He just keeps throwing himself back in there.”
Woods hurt his right ankle playing basketball right before the Trojans’ spring game, and the injury apparently has lingered. Woods’ shoulder injury is more recent, but prevents him from playing effectively whenever he gets hits.
Woods has been limited in practice for several weeks, and his injury struggles have been reflected on the field. He dropped two passes at key points in the Trojans’ triple-overtime loss to Stanford last month, and he failed to down the ball on the final play of regulation to set up a winning field goal attempt, instead running to the far sideline while time expired.
Woods’ two-catch performance against Washington – actually just one normal reception and one 6-inch forward pitch from Barkley – was his lowest total since going without a catch in last season’s game against the Huskies. Freshman Marqise Lee picked up much of the slack with nine catches for 74 yards as the Trojans dominated Washington with their running game, defense and special teams.
Kiffin has speculated Lee eventually will be better than Woods, his former Serra High teammate, but Barkley’s connection with Woods has been the Trojans’ most reliable tactic all season long. Woods has said he hopes a strong finish to the season will persuade Barkley to return for another season.
“There’s no secret how it affects us,” Kiffin said. “The guy has caught over 90 balls, and losing him, we need guys to step up. That’s why these guys practice hard all year long, and they’ll get their chance.”
Woods also returns punts and kickoffs for the Trojans, earning all-conference honors as a freshman, and Kiffin hasn’t pulled Woods off special-teams duty despite his tenderness and the Trojans’ wealth of speedy position players. Lee returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Washington, while cornerback Nickell Robey and tailback Curtis McNeal also can handle the jobs.
USC’s injury problems aren’t limited to Woods, either. Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris missed another practice Wednesday after sitting out last week’s game, while star left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive tackle Christian Tupou were limited.
Defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron is cautiously optimistic Harris and Tupou both will return to the starting lineup against the Ducks’ powerful running game.
“You need every healthy body you can get against those guys,” Orgeron said. “I think those (injured) guys will be ready.”
Updated November 16, 2011