Trojans wide receiver Michael Jackson III is generally pretty quiet. That’s why fellow player Tahj Washington caught the eye when Jackson addressed his teammates Saturday night after No. 9 USC produced another uneven defensive performance and held on to a 41-35 win over Cal at the Coliseum.
“He’s a guy who’s always working. He may not say much, but his actions speak for him,” Washington said. “He said ‘I love you guys’, he has respect for all of us, his teammates. That was just motivating.”
Jackson, a sophomore from Las Vegas, and Washington, a redshirt junior from Texas who is in his second season at USC after transferring from Memphis, spoke eloquently of their actions on a night that saw the The Trojans’ receiving corps was thinned out by injuries and needed every meter the heaving duo could provide.
Jackson made five catches for the season’s best 115 yards and two touchdowns, fulfilling a promise that hamstring injuries threatened to take away from him. He teamed with quarterback Caleb Williams to give the Trojans a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter with a 7-yard passing play, and he completed a 59-yard passing play with 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter, to extend the trojans. lead to 27-7. Seventy-one of his yards came after the catch.
Jackson also had 16 yards on punt returns for 150 all-purpose yards. He has nine receptions this season, three of them for touchdowns.
“It’s incredible, man. This guy was on a trip,” Washington said of Jackson. “Just seeing him perform is a dream come true. i feel it for him It makes me excited.”
Washington was not sluggish on Saturday either. He had seven catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, an excellent continuation of his seven catches, 118 yards and two touchdown performance last week in Arizona.
His confidence grows the more he plays, Washington said, and that can only be a good thing for a team whose leaky defense is pressuring the offense to produce in bundles. USC is down 115 points over the past three weeks, starting with 43 points in the Utah loss, 37 points in an Arizona win and 35 points in Cal. The Bears scored 28 points in the second half on Saturday and 21 in the loosely played fourth quarter.
Quarterback Caleb Williams allowed USC to pass Cal with his 26-for-41 performance for 360 yards and four TD passes and a 38-yard rushing attack that included a TD. His connection with his receivers has been solid, with Washington catching seven times on 11 goals, Terrell Bynum seven of eight for 68 yards, and Jackson five of eight times he’s been tackled.
Washington said he and Jackson didn’t feel pressured in their larger roles. “It’s routine. That’s what we do. It is being presented on the field right now. Everyone else can see it now,” he said.
Trust plays a major role for Washington. “Just making games and the respect I’m starting to get from my teammates and coaches. Your trust in me to move on,” he said. “I’m just digging deeper now. I watch more movies now. I care more about my body now because it’s like people respect me and allow me to make these games and I just have to make them a routine so just keep going and keep finding new ways to do it to get better.
The Trojans (8-1, 6-1 in the Pacific-12 game) were without injured wide receivers Mario Williams and Jordan Addison for the second straight week, though coach Lincoln Riley said Addison is close to returning. That could make for some tough decisions before they face Colorado at the Coliseum on Friday, given how well Washington and Jackson played against Cal.
That’s a nice problem. More pleasant than the problem of fixing a defense that continues to miss tackles, taking unnecessary penalties and allowing opponents to stay in games the Trojans should be winning in a romp.
At least Riley doesn’t have to worry about Washington and Jackson showing up.
“They’re two really competitive players, two guys who have made an impact not just on offense but on special teams,” Riley said. “These are two guys who right from the start when we started weren’t necessarily at the top of the depth list or guys who were given a lot of chances. You got stuck in there. They kept working, kept improving.
“These guys were kind of what we need to be as a team. They keep improving and those opportunities show up and they’re ready. I’m proud of this guy, proud of Tahj,” he added as Washington sat next to him during a post-game press conference. When the guys were down we needed them to get up and they did it in a big way.”
Riley likes Jackson’s versatility and confidence.
“He attacks the ball. He’s got confident hands,” Riley said. “Sometimes you see wideouts whose hands aren’t as confident. They might hesitate a little to make sure they catch him, but he runs through the ball. After the catch, he runs hard. He runs aggressively. Some guys just run away to get what they can get. Some guys act like attackers, say, “I’ll get mine,” and stuff like that. That makes him a good receiver and punt returner.”
Jackson said he didn’t find it difficult to remain patient while his hamstring injuries healed. “I knew what I was dealing with. It’s been a long road,” he said. “I had to prove that I am healthy. But Lincoln trusted me to make a big entrance.”
He and Washington made a lot of big games on Saturday. Aside from a miraculous turn on defense, they need to do a lot more to keep USC afloat.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2022-11-06/column-elliott-usc-cal-football-michael-jackson-iii-tahj-washington Column: Surging duos Jackson III, Washington giving USC boost