Perhaps Marqise Lee is kidding, but it doesn’t sound like it.
“I know nothing about it, to tell the truth,” the best wide receiver in America — based on winning the 2012 Biletnikoff Award and his fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting while playing for a six-loss team — said of his impending coronation as USC’s career leader in receiving yards.
He already holds 23 school records so what’s another?
“If it happens, I’ll be appreciative,” he said. “I’ve got to continue doing things for the team.”
Lee can do that only if sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler, a first-year starter, gets him the ball, which isn’t happening much through four games. He is averaging 73 yards a game, down from 132 last season when Matt Barkley was throwing to him.
No one from ASU, which gave up 161 yards to Lee last season, doubts that the 6-foot junior still can break off a big play at any moment, such as when he and Kessler connected for an 80-yard touchdown against Boston College on Sept.14.
ASU cornerback Osahon Irabor will be one of the prime defenders against Lee on Saturday in Tempe.
“I can’t wait for this challenge,” Irabor said. “It’s a lot of fun to go against a guy that talented. Watching film we’ve seen a lot of deep balls that have missed by inches. He hasn’t had any trouble getting open. It’s the ball getting to him and the timing. He’s the same dangerous receiver.”
Even if Irabor and secondary companions are at their best, Lee likely will rack up the 45 yards he needs to eclipse Johnnie Morton’s school record of 3,201, set from 1990-92. And don’t blink on returns. Lee broke a 100-yarder on a kickoff against Hawaii and rang up 469 all-purpose yards against Arizona, both last season.
“He’s a complete athlete,” Irabor said. “You see him running down the field like a gazelle, running past guys. He must work hard to hone his skills, because he’s a very good player.”
Lee suffered a shoulder injury Aug.9 during preseason camp and hurt an ankle last week against Utah State. Those — and the offensive struggles that put USC at No. 106 nationally in total offense — are minuscule blips for a 21-year-old who was born to deaf parents and raised by others from age 6 on.
“I stay positive and move forward,” said Lee, whose precarious childhood was chronicled last Christmas in a Los Angeles Times story. “A lot of fans on the outside think we’re not doing as well as they want us to be doing. That’s not what I’m thinking about. Struggles are part of life. We’re finding our way as an offense. There’s always another opportunity.”
USC coach Lane Kiffin named Kessler the starter over sophomore Max Wittek following a 10-7 loss to Washington State on Sept. 7.
Lee has seen “major improvement” in the past two games. “I have full faith in him (Kessler). He’s taking it little by little, staying composed and not trying to force anything.”
The Trojans move Lee around, looking for any way to get the ball to the projected 2014 top-10 NFL draft pick and probe for a defensive weakness.
“He can catch a short pass and take it 90 (yards), can outrun you on the vertical pass, catch an intermediate pass,” ASU coach Todd Graham said.
“He’s just dynamic. We’ve got to be smart and mix things up. College football is all about matchups and how you go about handling those. We’ll have a great plan for that (starting with Irabor).”