STANFORD — JJ Arcega- Whiteside’s phone died following his season-opening game for Stanford because he got so many text messages and notifications following a three-touchdown performance against San Diego State.
All that attention Arcega-Whiteside got off the field came in part because the Aztecs paid so little to him on the field, choosing to do whatever it takes to slow down Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love no matter the consequences.
Loading up the box to stop Love figures to be much more difficult this season against the 10th-ranked Cardinal (1-0) because quarterback K.J. Costello is so skilled at throwing the deep pass to Arcega-Whiteside and a group of talented pass catchers.
“It relieves pressure off the run game,” Arcega-Whiteside said Tuesday. “We have one of the best, if not the best, running back in the country. ... To go out the first game of the year and have over 300 yards receiving kind of shows we can beat you with our running game or passing game, depending on which one you want to take away.”
That will be the challenge No. 17 USC (1-0) faces Saturday in an early-season Pac-12 showdown.
San Diego State made its game plan clear from the start, putting both safeties near the line of scrimmage for much of the night to slow down Love even if that meant Arcega-Whiteside and Trent Irwin got one-on-one matchups on the outside.
The Aztecs did manage to slow down Love, who had 29 yards on 18 carries after leading all Power 5 backs with 2,118 yards rushing a year ago.
After a slow start for the Cardinal, Arcega-Whiteside made sure his coaches and quarterback knew he could win his matchups on the outside and the game plan changed.
He caught six passes for 226 yards — the third most in school history — for the game and added a 2-point conversion to go with his three TD catches.
“We were trying to establish the running game and it was getting difficult because their free safety was coming into the box and they were playing one-on-one across the board,” he said. “There was a lot of space. That’s something you have to bring up to the coaches. ... Because at the end of the day, if the whole defense is stacking the box, you can only do so much in the run game.”
Some of those catches came on plays where he appeared covered but had the ability to jump over the defenders to come down with the ball. Arcega-Whiteside’s 6-foot-3 size and a vertical leap measured at 34 inches in the spring make him an almost impossible matchup for smaller cornerbacks.
“There’s not a lot of wideouts that I’ve come across that have his knack and ability to position themselves properly countless, countless times in between the corner, outside the corner, sometimes slipping inside but still staying wide away from the safety,” Costello said. “He’s a basketball player. He’s taking the ball off the rim. We do want to develop certain things, taking guys more vertical and not necessarily having to always go to the jump ball. But I’m excited to work on that going forward.”
Arcega-Whiteside’s ability to leap and come down with passes comes naturally. He was born in Spain to a family steeped in basketball. His mother, Valorie Whiteside, starred in college at Appalachian State and played professionally in Spain. His father, Joaquin Arcega, had a long professional career in Europe, and Arcega-Whiteside has two uncles who played for Spain’s 1984 Olympic team.