Arizona Wildcats football braces for another Marqise Lee confrontation
It was an effort in a lost cause, but USC receiver Marqise Lee’s performance against Arizona last season was one for the record books.
Poor open-field tackling allowed the 2012 Bilentnikoff Award-winner to tear apart the Wildcats’ defense. Lee finished the game with 16 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns in the 2012 matchup. His 345 receiving yards broke the conference record and rank fifth all-time in NCAA history for a single game.
“Our strategy last year was to let [Lee] get so many yards that he cramped up,” head coach Rich Rodriguez laughed. “So after he went for about a half a mile, he had to go out for a play to loosen his cramps. That’s all we did last year.”
Despite the historic game, an undisciplined No. 10-ranked Trojans team racked up 13 penalties for a total of 117 yards, which allowed Arizona to stay in the game and come away with the 39-36 upset at home. But there was still a sour taste left in the Arizona secondary’s mouth after the win.
“As a secondary, we were embarrassed,” junior cornerback Jonathan McKnight said after practice Wednesday. “You should never let a receiver have that many yards.”
USC’s offense hasn’t been as explosive this season. Lee’s stats are down from last year, and he sustained a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the Trojans’ loss last week at ASU.
But don’t expect the slow start or recent injury to distract the Wildcats. Last season’s embarrassing performance against Lee is still fresh in their memory, and they’re focused on making sure that doesn’t happen again.
“[The key to containing Lee is] making sure he doesn’t come out of the locker room,” Rodriguez joked. “We just got to make sure we change our coverage enough so we’re not just staying in one thing, letting them pick us apart.”
Senior Shaquille Richardson is the Wildcats’ most veteran cornerback and is expected to line up across Lee to start next Thursday’s game. That being said, Rodriguez said he has confidence in his other defensive backs, including McKnight. Rodriguez didn’t go into detail about the plan to contain Lee, but one can expect Richardson or McKnight will have help from a double-team on Lee.
Both Richardson and McKnight echoed Rodriguez’s plan to show USC’s offense multiple looks, but also acknowledged open-field tackling as the key to preventing a repeat of last season’s debacle.
“Team tackling,” Richardson said simply. “[Lee] had a lot of open space last year. It wasn’t really big plays, it was short passes that turned into big plays.”
Eight of Lee’s 16 receptions last year against the Wildcats were for 25 or more yards.
“If we team tackle, like we’ve seen other teams do on film, we’ll be fine,” Richardson said. “He’s a great receiver. He’ll have his big plays, but if we play as a team and ride to the ball, we’ll be fine.”
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDella