Previously, USC freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith had been listed behind George Farmer and Nelson Agholor on the Trojans' depth chart. But on Friday night, Smith found out from the coaching staff he was being inserted into the starting lineup beside Farmer and Agholor.
Smith made the most of his opportunity on Saturday helping USC jump out to a 31-7 halftime lead and a decisive 52-13 victory over Fresno State.
In a game filled with offensive output from the Trojans, JuJu Smith was USC's most explosive weapon, finishing with a game-high 123 yards receiving on four catches. In the first four drives, he had catches of 25, 53 and 43 yards.
Getting Smith involved early was a priority for head coach Steve Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Clay Helton. He was targeted on the first play of USC's opening three drives and the first pass attempt of the fourth drive. His biggest gains came thanks to large runs after the catch.
Smith's 53-yard reception came on the opening play of the Trojans' third drive of the game. With a 14-0 lead, USC went with a simple...[gasp]...bubble screen...(say it ain't so!!)...to the right side. Smith catches the ball behind the line of scrimmage. He gets a nice block on the defensive back from fellow freshman Bryce Dixon and then turns the corner.
The athleticism is then on display as JuJu Smith races past three defenders, who take poor angles thanks to his speed. Smith gallops down the sideline until he is pushed out of bounds by Fresno State's Bryan Harper, who came across from his cornerback position on the opposite side of the field.
"When Bryce Dixon blocked the corner, I saw daylight and I just ran," Smith said.
You can see the catch starting at the 0:39 mark of the highlights:
The second huge play from JuJu Smith came during USC's first drive of the second quarter. On the first two plays of the drive, Buck Allen was given the rock. Allen rushed for three yards and then a nine-yard first down gainer that was called back. Smith had been called for an illegal block in the back downfield, bringing the ball back for a 2nd-and-8 play.
He atoned for the penalty with a 43-yard reception that can be seen in the highlights above starting at the 0:59 mark. USC goes with a play-action pass. Cody Kessler looks for Nelson Agholor down the middle on a crossing route initially before coming to the left and delivering a deep stop route to Smith on the outside.
JuJu Smith catches the ball 16 yards from the line of scrimmage. He felt the secondary player coming from the inside and immediately spins outside leaving the Fresno State defender diving for his ankles. JuJu breaks free of the attempted arm tackle and takes off up the sideline for a 43-yard gain before he is knocked out-of-bounds by a pair of Bulldogs defenders.
The play set up a 27-yard field goal by Andre Heidari that put USC up 24-0 less than 20 minutes into the game. Smith was not targeted again in the game, but the two big gainers showcased his unique combination of size and speed.
"It's just like practice," Smith said. "We come out here. We play like we practice and execute and make big plays."
Smith said after the game that he never expected to have such a big game in his debut, but just how good was his debut?
Well take a look at some of the most notable receivers in USC history and how they did in their first game as Trojans.
(**Keyshawn Johnson was the only one who was not a freshman in his Trojan debut. Johnson spent two years at West Los Angeles College prior to attending USC.)
Notable USC Receiver Debuts:
- Lynn Swann (1971) vs. Alabama: 1 catch, 18 yards
- Johnnie Morton (1990) vs. Syracuse: 0 catches, 0 yards
- **Keyshawn Johnson (1994) vs. Washington: 1 catch, 5 yards
- Keary Colbert (2000) vs. Colorado: 3 catches, 34 yards
- Mike Williams (2002) vs. Auburn: 4 catches, 56 yards
- Steve Smith (2003) vs. Auburn: 1 catch, 7 yards
- Dwayne Jarrett (2004) vs. Virginia Tech: 2 catches, 8 yards
- Robert Woods (2010) vs. Hawai'i: 4 catches, 46 yards
- Marqise Lee (2011) vs. Minnesota: 5 catches, 52 yards
- Nelson Agholor (2012) vs. Hawai'i: 1 catch, 8 yards
- JuJu Smith (2014) vs. Fresno State: 4 catches, 123 yards
UPDATE: USC has confirmed that JuJu Smith's 123 receiving yards are the most by a true freshman in a season opener.