Trojans' Marqise Lee, Robert Woods might be nation's best pass-catching duo this season.
Desmond Trufant, the youngest son of one of the first families of football in this state, could have easily followed the same path older brother Marcus traveled to Washington State.
Instead, the graduate of Wilson High in Tacoma decided to take the road closer to home and sign with the rival Huskies.
“I think that was one of my reasons for coming to UW, because a lot of people thought I would go to Washington State because he went there,” Trufant said earlier this season. “But I came here to kind of make my own name.”
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He’s done just that, emerging as the team’s defensive leader (as well as a team captain) in his senior season, his fourth as a starter at cornerback.
Saturday, Trufant has a chance to make his own name on an even larger scale when the Huskies host 11th-ranked USC at CenturyLink Field at 4 p.m.
USC brings to town what some consider college football’s best receiving duo in sophomore Marqise Lee and junior Robert Woods, who have combined for 83 catches this season (not far off UW’s team total of 97). Lee, a 6-foot, 195-pounder from Inglewood, Calif., leads the Pac-12 with 52 receptions for 649 yards. Woods, a 6-1, 190-pounder from Carson, Calif., is tied for seventh (with UW’s Kasen Williams) with 31 for 272 yards.
“Two first-round (draft pick) NFL receivers that have very, very good speed, run good routes, catch the ball,” said UW defensive-backs coach Keith Heyward.
And the heftiest challenge yet this year for UW’s cornerbacks, led by Trufant, who is generally considered as one of the top players at his position for the 2013 NFL draft.
Heyward said Tuesday he told Trufant this week that “this is his money game right here. He can improve his stock dramatically right here. It’s a great challenge to go up against one of those guys, or both of them, and display his talents.”
He didn’t want to talk about it Tuesday, though, as the usually quotable Trufant told a UW spokesman he did not wish to speak to the media. Maybe he was in a hurry to go watch more film of the Trojans and try to figure out where Lee and Woods will be Saturday.
UW coaches say one of the many issues in defending Lee, listed as a flanker, and Woods, listed as a split end, is that the Trojans align the two all over the place.
“You don’t know where they are going to be,” said UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. “There are some offenses where you know where (a specific receiver) is going to be. They don’t do that.”
And as the numbers show, the Trojans attempt to get the ball to each as often as possible. UW coach Steve Sarkisian said one of the biggest differences in USC’s offense since his years there as an assistant (he was offensive coordinator there from 2005-08 before coming to UW) is the Trojans’ use of short, lateral passes to Lee and Woods designed to get them the ball in space.
Woods entered the year with more hype than Lee after catching 111 passes last season to Lee’s 73. But Lee has had the better first half of the 2012 season. Good enough that Sarkisian said on his radio show Monday night that Lee might be the best player in college football, noting also his ability to block and return kicks.
Rang said Tuesday “to me, the two best players in all of college football are both true sophomores in Lee and the defensive end from South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney. I think that both of them would be top-10 and perhaps top-five picks in 2013 if either of them were eligible for the draft.”
Rang says he rates Trufant as a second- to third-rounder and says he has exceeded expectations throughout his career, noting that most defensive backs “are usually only as good as whatever pass rush they’ve got ahead of them.”
The Huskies, though, have shown improved pass defense all season, ranking second in the conference this week in yards allowed (173.8) and sixth in pass-defense efficiency. Trufant’s ability to often negate the other team’s top receiver has been one reason why.
“Desmond has always been a fantastic player,” Sarkisian said Tuesday. “One of the challenges for him was to transfer everything he would do in practice to bring it to the game and do it with confidence, and he is doing that this year.”
It obviously won’t be all on Trufant’s shoulders Saturday — on any given play, he’ll be able to defend only Lee or Woods. The assignment for the other could go to a safety or to the other cornerback spot (which Heyward said is basically an open competition between Tre Watson, Marcus Peters and Greg Ducre).
UW, though, will need Trufant to come up big again to have a chance, as he did against Stanford, when his interception in the final minutes sealed the win.
“I think he likes the opportunity and the challenge,” Sarkisian said. “And this is a big challenge — don’t get me wrong. You don’t get to take any plays off against USC when you are playing defensive back because you never know when it’s Lee or Woods or both of them. … But I think good competitors embrace the challenge, so I think he will be ready to go.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @bcondotta