Somehow, like a hot knife through butter, senior quarterback Matt Barkley’s pass sliced two Oregon defensive backs and landed in the hands of Nelson Agholor.
The freshman wide receiver held on as Ducks cornerback Avery Patterson screamed in for a pummeling hit.
“I was standing on the sideline,” wide receivers coach Tee Martin said, “thinking he was going to get his helmet knocked off.”
His helmet stayed on — Agholor slipped the incoming Patterson and in a flash sprinted into the end zone to cap a 76-yard touchdown haul, the first scoring play of his short nine-game college career.
“He made a great catch, great concentration, caught it and kept running with it,” Martin added.
The highlight reel play served as the exclamation point on Agholor’s breakout performance versus Oregon last Saturday, a game where he finished with six receptions for 162 yards and one touchdown.
“It felt good to just help my teammates out,” Agholor said. “There’s an opportunity given to me every week, and whether the ball comes to me or not, I just have to make plays.”
His first big play came in mid-September at Stanford on a 49-yard reception. This time, though, he punched it in for six points.
And should he continue making plays, USC’s opponents will have a third dynamic wideout to worry about in the Tampa, Fla. native.
On the season, Agholor has caught 14 passes for 269 yards, including his touchdown Saturday.
And his latest performance suggests some sort of a late-season rise similar to that of his predecessors, sophomore Marqise Lee and junior Robert Woods, who notched impressive freshman campaigns of their own — each was named the conference’s offensive freshman of the year.
“He’s starting to catch on, right around the same time as Marqise and Robert did,” Barkley said. “It’s taken him a couple games to get into that rhythm and to get that confidence. He’s known what to do for a while now, but he finally got a chance on some of those deeper balls.”
Agholor, though, hasn’t been thinking about those deep balls, not that much anyway. Oddly enough, he’s been thinking about a botched onside kick during the waning minutes against Oregon — when he had a chance to recover the ball but took the wrong angle of pursuit.
“That’s discipline, that’s something I can control,” Agholor said. “We’ve actually coached that up many times, and I let emotions take me away from my fundamentals. I tried to chase the ball, rather than hug the sidelines.”
Discipline and fundamentals, combined with talent, is what has allowed Agholor, a five-star recruit coming from Berkeley Prep, to make an impact through nine games with the No. 19 Trojans thus far.
In the words of Martin, his position coach, it’s because of the “formula.”
“When you’re talented, you work hard, and you’re prepared on Saturday, you’re going to produce,” Martin said. “That’s the formula. He has those three attributes. … He cares about knowing what to do and he wants to be great.”
So his latest effort wasn’t all that surprising. It was expected.
Asked if Aghlor’s touchdown reception was a pass most freshmen could make, Martin just smiled.
“I’m glad that one made it.”