Arizona gave up the most yards ever to a Pac-12 receiver, but the Wildcats got the win and coach Rich Rodriguez was able to joke about it.
“I think we tired him out,” Rodriguez said of USC’s Marqise Lee. “He got about half a mile.”
Well, not quite, but Lee did set a conference record with 345 receiving yards on 16 catches, blasting past the previous record of 293 set in 2004 by Oregon State’s Mike Hass.
“He’s phenomenal,” Rodriguez said after the 39-36 victory. “It seemed like he was at a different speed, didn’t he? It looked like we had angles, and he was out-running angles.”
So true. Lee caught touchdown passes of 49 and 44 yards, each time grabbing a pass in stride across the middle and out-racing Arizona defenders into the end zone.
Lee also caught passes of 57, 50, 32 and 28 yards.
“Unbelievable,” Rodriguez said.
Yeah, and Lee had a 73-yard kickoff return that put USC right back in the game after the Wildcats took a 39-28 lead with 5:36 to play. The Trojans needed only three plays to cut the lead to 39-36, which included a two-point conversion pass to — who else? — Lee.
“His performance was unbelievable,” said USC quarterback Matt Barkley. “We all know he’s a special player, but to play like that and to have a game like he had tonight is really something.”
Given all that, it is surprising that three good things happened for Arizona when Lee touched the ball.
The first came on the opening possession. USC had put together a methodical drive before a pass on third-and-24 from the Arizona 35 went off Lee’s hands and into the arms of linebacker Marquis Flowers. That was the first of two interceptions for Flowers and five turnovers for the Trojans.
The second came on fourth-and-2 from the UA 29 early in the fourth quarter. On a curious play call, Lee got the ball on an end around, but was bottled up as he tried to turn the corner, brought down by cornerback Jonathan McKnight and backup freshman walk-on safety Vince Miles after a gain of 1.
And the third instance came on the final play, as Barkley put the ball into the end zone from the Arizona 48. Lee actually got his hands on the ball, but cornerback Shaquille Richardson did too, and the pass fell incomplete.
After catching 12 passes in the first half, Lee made only four receptions in the second half. USC fans will be wondering why. The answer has more to do with coach Lane Kiffin’s play-calling than Arizona’s coverage.
Not that the Cats are complaining.
“Marquis did have a monster day,” Flowers said. “He’s a great player. We’ll go back, look at what we did wrong, and come out next week and do better.”
Thankfully for Arizona, UCLA doesn’t have anyone close to Lee.