Receivers Catch Wave of Variety
USC moved up six spots to No. 11 in the Associated Press top 25 poll Sunday, a fitting number for a team that already features 11 players with pass receptions this season.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw to eight receivers in a season-opening victory over Auburn, connected with seven during Saturday’s 40-3 rout of Colorado.
Another solid performance from the expanding receiving corps will be needed this week when the Trojans (2-0) play No. 25 Kansas State (3-0) at Manhattan, Kan. A victory could propel USC into the top 10 for the first time since Sept. 30, 2000, when the Trojans were ranked No. 8 before losing at Oregon State.
“We have a lot of guys we can throw the football to, and Carson is comfortable mixing it up,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said.
Palmer, who has completed 45 of 62 passes for 546 yards and two touchdowns this season, said he is benefiting from a year of experience running coordinator Norm Chow’s offense and an offensive line that did not allow a sack against Colorado.
“I’m getting great protection and that makes it a lot easier,” said Palmer, who was sacked 36 times last season.
USC displayed its varied threats while handing the Buffaloes their worst defeat since a 52-7 loss at Nebraska in 1992, and their worst defeat at home since a 59-20 loss to Missouri in 1983.
Junior flanker Keary Colbert caught four passes for 52 yards, including consecutive receptions of 17 an 21 yards during the Trojans’ first possession. It was an 80-yard drive that ended with running back Malaefou MacKenzie breaking four tackles to complete a 32-yard touchdown pass play.
MacKenzie, who had six receptions for 110 yards against Auburn, finished with two catches for 38 yards.
Senior wide receiver Kareem Kelly caught four passes for 36 yards and moved into a tie with Keyshawn Johnson for second place on USC’s career list with 168 receptions. Johnnie Morton caught a record 201 passes from 1990 to ’93.
“We have a lot of great players, so opposing teams cannot concentrate on one guy,” said Kelly, who tied John Jackson’s school record with receptions in 37 consecutive games. “The young guys are proving that they can make plays.”
Emerging freshman standout Mike Williams made a game-high seven receptions for 90 yards, but the Trojans failed to execute a play that could become Williams’ signature.
Midway through the first quarter, USC had a first down at the Colorado 14. The Trojans tried to isolate the 6-foot-5 Williams against a smaller defensive back in the corner of the end zone, but Williams did not run a smooth route and was unable to get his footing before Palmer overthrew him.
Carroll was especially happy with the play of 6-8 sophomore tight end Gregg Guenther, who dropped a pass in the opener against Auburn. Guenther made his the first catch of his career on a five-yard play in the first quarter and caught consecutive passes of four and 12 yards during an 80-yard scoring drive that gave the Trojans a 27-3 lead in the fourth quarter.
Freshman running back Hershel Dennis also caught his first pass--a four-yard gain in the first quarter--and rushed for 32 yards in five carries.
Senior fullback Chad Pierson, who sat out the opener because of a hamstring strain, also caught a pass.
Senior guard Zach Wilson, who strained his left foot in training camp and missed the opener, played a few series against Colorado. Freshman Fred Matua, recovering from a bruised knee, did not. Both players will push Eric Torres for playing time this week.... Carroll said freshman Winston Justice will remain the starting right tackle based on his performance against Colorado.... Colorado’s 61 yards of total offense were the fewest given up by USC since the Trojans gave up 43 against Oregon State in 1952. Colorado’s four first downs were the fewest given up by USC since 1963, also against Colorado.... Carroll celebrated his 51st birthday Sunday.