LOS ANGELES (AP) - Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had many faults during his tumultuous coaching tenure at Southern California. Featuring his best receiver was never one of them.
It’s a trait that cornerback Adoree Jackson is prepared to deal with when the No. 20 Trojans face the No. 1 Crimson Tide and sophomore Calvin Ridley on Saturday.
“Coach Kiffin is the offensive coordinator, so that is going to separate (Ridley) a lot from everybody else,” Jackson said. “You know what (Kiffin) likes to do. That speaks volumes of what they are trying to mold (Ridley) into.”
Jackson is expected to play primarily man-to-man pass defense under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast, allowing the young front seven to blitz. Coach Clay Helton instituted a similar game plan against UCLA last season and the athletic Jackson thrived.
After alternating between defense and offense in his first two seasons at USC, Jackson only played defensive back during training camp. It was a necessary change to bring him up to speed on Pendergast’s schemes after missing spring practice while trying to compete in the long jump at the Rio Olympics. It also allowed Jackson to focus on the technical aspects of playing corner, something he wasn’t always able to do while playing on offense, defense and special teams in 22 of 27 games at USC.
The lack of specialization seemed to hurt Jackson’s performance on defense last season after only allowing one touchdown pass as a freshman, none in the regular season. He lost his footing resulting in a momentum-changing touchdown late in the first half of Stanford’s 41-31 victory, and Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller got behind Jackson for a 75-yard touchdown on the Irish’s first offensive play.
Helton ideally plans to keep Jackson on the field for 80 plays per game and would defer to allocating that time on defense. Jackson said he would play wide receiver if asked to do so against Alabama and will handle punts and kickoffs, where he has scored four of his 10 career touchdowns.
“Will we use him offensively throughout the season? Yes, but I don’t think it will be what you saw last year,” Helton said. “Allow him to be what he truly is, which is one of the best corners in college football and a dynamic returner.”
Jackson’s primary focus is stopping Ridley. He even expressed a desire to shadow Ridley no matter where Kiffin lines him up on the field.
“It would say something about me if I wasn’t going out there and trying to compete, if I was just shying away from it,” Jackson said.
Given Kiffin’s high-usage tendencies for his top receiver, Jackson will be kept busy by Ridley. Robert Woods had 111 receptions for 1,292 yards receiving as a sophomore at USC in 2011, and Marqise Lee set school single-season records with 118 receptions and 1,721 yards the following season. During Kiffin’s first season at Alabama in 2014, Amari Cooper set an SEC record with 124 receptions and his 1,727 yards smashed Julio Jones’ school single-season record by nearly 600 yards.
Ridley looks to be the next receiver to benefit from Kiffin’s high-volume approach after leading Alabama as a freshman in receptions, yards and touchdown receptions en route to the national championship. At 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, Ridley has the size and speed to be a dominant force, but USC defenders recognize Kiffin’s influence is what elevates him above the rest.
“Lane is Lane,” said safety Chris Hawkins, one of 19 players still on the USC roster that played for Kiffin. “In my opinion, he’s one of the top five offensive coordinators in the country and he has always had a knack for getting that guy the ball. I feel like he’s going to try to do the same with Calvin Ridley, but we’re setting some stuff up now to where we’re going to try and prevent that.”
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