USC's Jackson sees opportunities vs Washington St
The Cougars have the only coverage unit in the FBS to give up three touchdowns on kickoffs this season and are dead last in the Pac-12 in return yards allowed.
''Your eyes just light up and you just imagine the plays you can make this Saturday,'' Jackson said of watching Washington State's special teams on tape.
Ranking second in the Pac-12 with an average of 33.7 yards per kick return, Jackson scored on a 100-yard kickoff in the Trojans' 24-21 loss at Utah to earn Pac-12 special teams player of the week honors.
The credit for that play belongs to fellow freshman JuJu Smith, Jackson said. It was Smith who gave Jackson the green light to take the ball out from 5 yards deep in the end zone.
But more importantly, as far as Jackson is concerned, he has a chance to record his first interception against the prolific Washington State passing offense.
Quarterback Connor Halliday leads the nation in passing yards and touchdowns. Halliday has thrown at least 49 passes in each of his last 16 starts, giving him plenty of opportunities to accumulate statistics.
''They might throw the ball 85 times Saturday,'' USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. ''That could conceivably happen, which is hard to even say, never mind watch. We just have to be patient.''
USC was largely able to keep Halliday in check last season, limiting him to 215 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions on 26-of-38 passing at the Coliseum. However, a pick-six of quarterback Cody Kessler and a 49-yard screen pass by Halliday to set up a late field goal gave Washington State a 10-7 upset win.
That loss still stings the defense, linebacker Su'a Cravens said, but has not shaken their confidence in how they match up with Halliday.
''It (stinks) because we didn't even give up a touchdown last year,'' Cravens said. ''We're real confident in our abilities and we feel we match up real well with these guys but you never know what is going to happen.''
The pass rush was effective in getting to Halliday in that game, sacking him four times and denying him the time to stretch the field.
Defensive linemen Leonard Williams (shoulder) and Antwaun Woods (illness) are expected to play despite being limited in practice, while lightly used outside linebackers Charles Burks and Quinton Powell could see more action coming off the edge.
Still, the pressure will be on a young USC secondary to keep Halliday's collection of talented receivers from delivering explosive plays. The development of Jackson embodies the twists and turns that group has gone through, including the much-publicized circumstances surrounding the suspension of senior team captain Josh Shaw.
Jackson started the season contributing on both offense and defense, catching three passes for 36 yards and one touchdown in the season opener. Since then, his playing time has come almost exclusively at defensive back and on special teams, delivering a critical forced fumble and recovery in the red zone against the Utes.
With his athleticism, long arms and understanding of the passing game, defensive coaches believe Jackson can eventually develop into one of the best corners in college football. The fact that he does not yet have an interception rankles the affable Jackson.
With the number of times Washington State puts the ball in the air, he might not be waiting much longer.
''Even the linebackers say they can't wait to get an interception or get the ball in their hands,'' Jackson said. ''It's ideal for anybody to get that stat under their belt, especially for me trying to get my first one.''