When was the last time USC had a true freshman wide receiver that made an immediate impact? The two names that come to mind: Robert Woods in 2010 and Marqise Lee in 2011. Both would have outstanding careers at USC as each broke several school records.
Will JuJu Smith be the next to join the group? Seven games into his freshman season, Smith has already shown why he was one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of high school as he finally got his first collegiate touchdown on Saturday against Colorado.
John "JuJu" Smith’s career at USC almost didn’t happen as he didn’t decided to be a Trojan until National Signing Day. He had strong interest in Notre Dame and Oregon, but made a National Signing Day decision to sign with USC. One big reason why Smith chose USC was that his cousin Johnny Nansen was hired as an assistant coach in December 2013.
Coming out of powerhouse Long Beach Poly HS, Smith excelled as both a wide receiver on offense and safety on defense. He also was the Jackrabbits' kick and punt returner. After he signed with USC, head coach Steve Sarkisian had the dilemma of figuring out what position Smith would play in college.
Sarkisian gave Smith the option and he started with the offense during the early weeks of Fall Camp. There seemed to be the intention for Smith to eventually switch over and practice with the secondary groups as well, but midway through camp, coaches made the decision to keep Smith exclusively on the offensive side as a wide receiver. The 6’2" receiver thrived in the second half of Fall Camp as coaches were developing plays to include Smith in the offense.
While there were strong expectations, JuJu Smith surpassed them with one of the most impressive freshman debuts in USC history. He caught four passes for 123 yards in the Trojans' season-opening victory over Fresno State. His 123 receiving yards were a Trojan record by a true freshman in his debut. His breakout play came halfway through the first quarter when he caught a bubble screen and took it 53 yards down the sideline, showing off his speed as he blew by Fresno defenders.
However, it took Smith the next five games to get another 123 receiving yards. He struggled to consistently get the ball with quarterback Cody Kessler throwing to other options.
In Saturday’s win against Colorado, JuJu Smith eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second time this season. He made an amazing catch early in the first quarter when he dove and somehow was able to catch a Kessler dart with his left hand for a USC first down. Making the remarkable catch even more improbable, Steve Sarkisian revealed in the post-game press conference after the game that left hand was Smith’s bad hand as he was dealing with a left thumb injury.
On the next USC possession, Smith hauled in a 45-yard pass from Kessler, his second longest reception of the season. Then, two plays later, Smith lined up on the left side and caught a short pass. Wrapped up by a defender, he extended the ball and dove over the goal line for his first touchdown as a Trojan.
"I came out here against Colorado and got over 100 yards and a touchdown," Smith told WeAreSC.com after the game. "I couldn't have asked for anything better."
With 26 receptions for 350 yards and a touchdown this season, Smith has established himself as the top receiving target behind junior Nelson Agholor. The true freshman is making strides that could end with all-freshman awards after the season. He just needs the ball more.
JuJu Smith and the USC Trojans take on Utah Saturday in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m. PST.