Stanford coach David Shaw doesn't want to "stop" USC wide receiver Robert Woods. Shaw knows better than that. He knows you can't devote the majority of your defensive resources to one side of the field.
"For a guy like that you don't say you're going to shut him out," Shaw said. "That's the one thing you don't say. What you do say is you want to limit him. You want to make sure when he catches the ball you have guys around him, you gang tackle him. You keep him from making the big play and the momentum-changing play. You just try to corral and minimize the yards he gets after the catch, because if you don't he can be special."
The sophomore sensation has been on fire this season -- particularly in the last three weeks, where he's caught 31 balls for 410 yards and four touchdowns.
But that's not what concerns Shaw. He's more concerned with how USC has started to add a running game to a high-powered passing attack.
"They have run the ball better," Shaw said. "The quarterback has been playing on a high level all year. Woods is about the best route-running receiver I've seen in college football in 10 years. The guy can run every single route and he makes it look easy. He's been playing at a high level.
"But as much as they get the ball to him, they have been able to spread it around. Other wide receivers have made plays, tight ends make plays, running backs makes plays. They've been more balanced. That's what makes them dangerous."
After starting their first four games averaging 33 rushing attempts per game for 142.5 yards, the Trojans have averaged 38 carries per game for 155 yards. In last week's win over Notre Dame, USC set season highs in rushing attempts (44) and yards (219).
But Stanford isn't just going to treat Woods like any other receiver. He'll get his share of bracket looks and leaning safeties with the hope that gang tackling will keep his yards down after the catch.
Last year Woods used the Stanford secondary as the welcome mat for his official coming out party, catching 12 balls for 224 yards and three touchdowns -- including a 61-yarder. And Stanford players vividly remember that.
"Let's be real, it's out there. He torched us last year," said safety Michael Thomas. "That did motivate us to play better. We want to think we're not the type of secondary to give up big yards and allows any type of receiver to come in and destroy us like that. It's motivation this week. We're going to game plan and work the plan the coaches give us to try to limit him from making those big plays. It's going to be a great challenge, but I think we're up to it."
Added Shaw: "He's a guy that can take over a game. And you don't usually say that about a receiver. You say that about a quarterback. You say that about a running back. I'm a guy who spent nine years in the NFL evaluating every receiver that came into the draft every single year. He's as good of a route-runner at this age I've ever seen."