Despite only three collegiate games under his belt, freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee has already begun turning heads with his big-play ability.
“He’s gotten better every week,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Last week, in the game, he looked the best that he’s looked as far as being comfortable, being lined up.”
Kiffin’s highest praise came when comparing sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods’ freshman season to Lee’s performance.
“I would say at this point right now, after three games, he’s ahead of where [Woods] was a year ago,” Kiffin said. “This kid’s really special. He’s every bit as fast as Robert, but he’s bigger and stronger.”
Lee, who is the No. 2 receiver behind Woods, is locked in to play when the coaches decide to call his number.
“[I’ve] come out here focused way more than I was the previous weeks,” Lee said. “You know, got everything off my mind and just really focused on the game and I’m ready.”
Saturday’s matchup against Arizona State in No. 23 USC’s first road Pac-12 game features a banged up, yet effective secondary that Lee and Woods will try to exploit.
“I wasn’t here last year to play them, but I heard their top corner is hurt. So I mean, they’re still doing a great job,” Lee said. “I know they got an amazing team, and I know about their linebackers being great, too. We’ll just go out there and compete and give [them] a good look.”
Lee might be asked to go across the middle of the field where Arizona State junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict awaits — Burfict is widely considered one of the top linebackers in the country. But the prospect of being hit by Burfict does not faze Lee.
“I think if he gets a shot on me, he gets a shot on me,” Lee said. “I’ll make sure I’ll catch the ball. I won’t get hit for nothing.”
When asked about the announcement late Tuesday night that the Pac-12 will not seek to add more teams for next season, Kiffin agreed with the decision.
“I think it’s great,” Kiffin said. “I love where we’re at right now and we’re just getting used to this format, championship game format, North and South [divisions] and so on.”
The addition of Oklahoma and Texas would not have threatened the Trojans’ recruiting advantage in Southern California, Kiffin noted.
“They’ve always tried to come in here. I don’t think that would change very much,” Kiffin said. “Just because you play a game one time a year in Los Angeles on a rotating schedule, I don’t think that really helps that much. You’ve still got to go a long ways away. I don’t think that would have been a big deal.”
Freshman wide receiver George Farmer played with the offensive starters during Wednesday’s practice, but Kiffin’s decision concerning Farmer’s status for this season is clear.
“We’re planning on redshirting George; he’s looked better than he ever has been,” Kiffin said. “If this were the beginning of the year right now, he’d be in the mix because he’s finally healthy. So we’re excited about him playing down the road.”
Though Farmer is likely to redshirt this season, another freshman, tailback Amir Carlisle, could factor into the Trojans’ gameplan against Arizona State despite not logging any playing time in the first three games of the season
“We think that he can help us,” Kiffin said of Carlisle. “He adds another dimension and some juice.”
Carlisle has been presumed to redshirt.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Prater made the play of practice, as he made a diving one-handed catch along the sideline.
“He’s very capable of huge plays; he’s just got to get more consistent,” Kiffin said. “Every time he starts to make a stride, something happens. He’s going to eventually be a really good player, hopefully it’s soon.”
Senior offensive tackle Martin Coleman and junior wide receiver Brice Butler and junior center Abe Markowitz were among those who did not practice.