Now THAT was a debut. Remove the sublime fumble-turned 76-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Williams to Tahj Washington, and Saturday’s 56-28 Trojan victory was part vanilla and all worrisome given the defense’s now 13-month “work in progress” status.
Aside from Zachariah Branch of course. Electric, tectonic, transcendent…pick your adjective for his 232 all-purpose yard masterpiece highlighted by his 25-yard touchdown reception and 96-yard kickoff return to the house that looked like a pinch of Jalen Waddle, a touch of Devin Hester, and a dash of Reggie Bush. Yeah…I went there.
There are only two college players I’ve seen in the last 20 years that cut more smoothly, decisively, and devastatingly than Branch, the aforementioned Bush, and legendary Pitt running back, LeSean McCoy. He’s still in the infancy of his college career that’s now just four-quarters old, but the fact Branch is looking every bit the part of USC’s next great single-digit numbered skill player should not be lost on The Trojan Family. Recall, that is truly rarified air:
Legends of Past
Mike Williams, the first true “freak” recruit of the Pete Carroll era ushered in the Trojans first National Championship of the 21st century. Fittingly the original #1 had a decorated two-year Trojan career with 176 receptions, 2,579 yards, and 30 touchdowns including one iconic pass to Matt Leinster cementing the Trojans 2004 Rose Bowl triumph.
Adoree’ Jackson and Robert Woods, a pair of iconic Trojan #2’s, had decorated collegiate careers. The former had 14 total touchdowns as perhaps USC’s greatest two-way player as Branch was the first Trojan since Jackson to have a receiving and kick return touchdown in the same game. While the latter had 253 receptions, 2,930 yards, and 32 touchdowns.
Before there was WRU, the original USC WR GOAT along with Lynn Swann was #3, Keyshawn Johnson. Oozing USC swagger in the 90s with his famous “just pass me the damn ball” catchphrase he trademarked in the NFL, Keyshawn had 168 receptions, 2,796 yards, and 16 touchdowns in just two Trojan seasons, including and most notably, being named 1996 Rose Bowl Game MVP.
Then there’s Bush. Not much to say here other than #5 being the most electrifying and iconic player in the history of the sport. Oh, the 6,581 all-purpose yards, 42 total touchdowns, 34-game winning streak, and Heisman Trophy aren’t bad either.
That closes us out with #8 Dwayne Jarrett and #9 Marqise Lee. The former was WR1 on USC’s 2004 national championship team and finished his career as a two-time All-American, had 216 receptions for 3,138 yards and 41 touchdowns, while also catching the second most iconic play of the 2005 “Bush Push” Game. (See: 4th & 9). The latter was probably the greatest pure athlete to play wide receiver in USC history, finishing with 248 receptions, 3,655 yards, and 29 touchdowns along with the 2012 Biletnikoff Award, still the only Trojan ever to receive that distinction.
How Will Zachariah Branch Be Remembered?
Massive shoes to fill for Branch, but the mere fact we’re having an iota of this conversation after one game speaks to his prodigious talent and seemingly ceiling-less upside. Which begs the question: