Numbers game for Woods and Lee

When Matt Barkley recently announced that he would be returning to USC for his senior season, there might not have been two people happier than receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

When you look at the numbers that these guys have put up together so far, it’s easy to look forward to next year and imagine how impressive things are going to be.

Woods and Lee combined for 184 catches in 2011 -- the most ever by a duo in USC history. That’s not a small accomplishment, as there have been some pretty good pairings in recent years.

Mike Williams and Keary Colbert were a cornerstone for the final year of Carson Palmer and the first year of Matt Leinart. In 2002, they combined for 152 catches, as Williams had 81 and Colbert had 71, but then in 2003 they stepped it up even further with 164 grabs between them (Williams had 95, Colbert 69).

The next productive duo for the Trojans was Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, who were almost a replica of Williams/Colbert -- with one taller and dominant receiver paired with a smaller and craftier player.

Jarrett and Smith put up their biggest totals together in Leinart’s senior season of 2005, when they combined for 151 grabs (91 for Jarrett, 60 for Smith). In 2006 -- with John David Booty at quarterback -- the duo produced 141 catches, as Smith had 71 and Jarrett added 70.

The way things are going for Woods and Lee, there seems to be no limit to the numbers that can be put up in 2012 -- especially with Barkley at the controls.

Barkley does a great job of working in conjunction with head coach and play-caller Lane Kiffin to put Woods and Lee in positions to succeed, lining them up in various spots and using them in multiple ways. The explosive ability of both players puts so much pressure on a defense because it’s so hard to contain both of them at the same time.

That’s one of the reasons the emergence of Lee was so critical to the overall success of the USC offense. From the time he got healthy after the Notre Dame game, his emergence over the final five-game stretch of the season was impressive, with 46 catches for 703 yards and seven touchdowns.

The fact that Lee was ability to come through with big plays meant that defenses were no longer able to focus exclusively on Woods. As good as Woods is, even he can be slowed down if he is the sole focal point of a defense. With Lee on the other side making plays, defenses were forced to be more honest in their coverages of Woods, and Barkley exploited that whenever he could.

It doesn’t take much to get either guy open either -- both have the ability to take a short pass and turn it into a long gain at any time. That’s the beauty of this offense -- it just keeps chipping away until the big play eventually comes.

This year will also see an assault on the career pass catching list for the Trojans. Right now Jarrett sits at the top spot with 216 catches, while Woods is tied with Mike Williams in sixth place at 176. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Woods will pass Jarrett sometime before the midway point of the season but the only question is, how long will his mark last? Lee will be piling up numbers right alongside Woods and has one more year of eligibility than Woods does. It will be a fun side battle to watch between two such competitive players.