How will USC get the ball to Marqise Lee?

US Presswire

Max Wittek (left) and Marqise Lee (right) hope to be celebrating a lot more together this season.The USC Trojans have questions at quarterback, but Marqise Lee is the answer at wide receiver.

Marqise Lee Receiving 2012 Season

Lee was one of the most explosive receivers in FBS last season, highlighted by his Pac-12 record-breaking 345-yard receiving game against Arizona on October 27.

With Matt Barkley at the helm last year, Lee finished second in FBS with 1,721 receiving yards.

His 892 yards after the catch placed him second among players from BCS-AQ schools behind Tavon Austin (947 yards).

Lee was targeted on 39 percent of USC’s pass attempts and gained almost half of the Trojans’ receiving yards last season. He owns or shares 22 school records, including the most career games with at least 10 receptions.

Currently, the four quarterbacks on the roster have a combined 71 pass attempts at USC, with 69 of them coming from Max Wittek. This inexperience under center should be a sign of concern for Lee.

Inexperience at QB

Last season, Wittek completed just 52 percent of his passes overall, including 12-of-21 (57 percent) to Lee. Although it is a limited sample size, that is still a huge drop off from Barkley’s 70 percent completion percentage to Lee in their two seasons together.

Marqise Lee Career Receiving by QB

One way to establish young unproven quarterbacks is to get the ball out of their hands quickly and use short-yardage throws to establish an offensive rhythm.

Lee should provide a nice security blanket for Wittek in this regard.

Of the 12 completions from Wittek to Lee, nine of them were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage and Lee gained 45 yards after the catch on those throws.

He led the Pac-12 in both receptions (64) and yards after catch (457) on throws within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Overall, nearly 55 percent of Lee’s catches were on those short throws.

Who will get him the ball deep?

Not only does Lee have big-play abilities on short throws, he is also a deep threat. Over the last two seasons, Lee has an FBS-leading 65 receptions on throws of 15 or more yards.

Lee leads FBS with 11 catches of 50-plus yards gained during that span and seven of his 25 receiving touchdowns in the last two seasons have been for 50 or more yards, tied for second-most in FBS.

In the two games Lee and Wittek played last season, Lee caught one pass in three attempts from Wittek that were thrown at least 50 yards downfield.

Mr. Everything

Even if his deep touches are down, Lee could also make big plays for the Trojans as a rusher and returner. Last season, Lee ranked third in FBS with 2,683 all-purpose yards and led the Pac-12 with 856 kickoff return yards.

Look for the fireworks to start early. USC opens the season on Thursday at Hawaii, a team that Lee burned for a 100-yard kickoff return in last year’s opener.