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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Tailor-made Taylor Mays

Safety Taylor Mays tracks down California?s running back Jahvid Best in the teams? matchup on Oct. 3. Mays is a new a key part of USC?s defense and consistent play has drawn a lot of attention from the Arizona coaching staff in preparation for the Wildcats? final game of the conference season in Los Angeles.
Safety Taylor Mays tracks down California?s running back Jahvid Best in the teams? matchup on Oct. 3. Mays is a new a key part of USC?s defense and consistent play has drawn a lot of attention from the Arizona coaching staff in preparation for the Wildcats? final game of the conference season in Los Angeles.

With all the athletes that dot the USC football team’s roster, one player stands out from the rest: Taylor Mays.

At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Mays is hard to miss, but it’s not his size that’s most impressive. It’s his speed. Mays is the fastest player on the Trojans, he clocked 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and that was after an ankle surgery during the off-season.

“”Really, I’ve never seen a guy who’s as physically imposing as he is,”” said UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”That’s the thing that separates him, he looks like a defensive end playing free safety, you know? I think not only is he a good player who makes plays, but he’s just such a big, physical guy that you always notice where he is.””

Mays was inserted into USC’s starting lineup early in his freshman season and has been a focal point of the Trojan defense ever since. Last year, as a junior, he was a consensus First Team All-American selection by the Associated Press when he notched 53 tackles (two for a loss) and nine pass deflections, and he’s having an even better season during his senior campaign.

He missed the Trojans’ loss to Washington early in the season but still ranks second in the Pacific 10 Conference with 82 total tackles although he’s been nursing a knee injury for most of the year. But despite the injury, Mays has still been a force to be reckoned with and has drawn high praise from opposing players and coaches, including Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

“”I see a guy who is probably the closest person who resembled Sean Taylor in anybody that I’ve seen,”” said Stoops, who coached Taylor at Miami from 2001-03. “”That’s probably a little bit unfair to Taylor Mays because Sean may have been, before it was all said and done, probably would have been, the best player to ever play that position.””

Mays doesn’t have the ball skills that Taylor did — Mays has only five interceptions in his career while Taylor recorded 10 picks in 12 games during the 2003 season — but they play a similar style: bone-crunching, in-your-face physical football.

For that reason, and because he’s been one of the best defensive players in the country for four years, opposing teams tend to steer clear of Mays’ side of the field.

“”The ball has not gone much his way at all. The ball has been kept out of the middle of the field, whether on post routes or seam routes, I think in respect to him,”” said USC head coach Pete Carroll. “”He’s a monster hitter … he’s looking to get you if you come over the middle. I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a factor.””

Last season against the Wildcats, Mays only recorded three tackles, but they were all at key points in the contest during the Trojans’ 17-10 win in Tucson. Late in the game, UA running back Nic Grigsby broke into the clear and seemed headed for a score until — almost out of nowhere — Mays came in for a touchdown-saving tackle.

“”Going back to our game last year, we had some opportunities to make a couple of big plays and got one-on-one in the secondary with him and he got us down every time,”” Dykes said. “”He’s a sure tackler and a guy who just kind of roams the middle for them and takes care of all the problems. That’s kind of what he does.””

The Trojans will need Mays to have a similar game to last season’s contest with Arizona, as this season the Wildcats again boast one of the Pac-10’s more potent offenses. The two other highly-acclaimed offensive units in the league that USC faced — Oregon and Stanford — combined to score 99 points in two losses for the Trojans, the two most lopsided defeats in Carroll’s time in Los Angeles.

Oregon was able to keep Mays off-balance by mixing up the run and pass effectively, and Stanford’s physical offensive style wore Mays down and the rest of the Trojan defense.

The Wildcats will try to take a page out the Ducks’ and Cardinal’s book in an attempt to slow down Mays during Saturday’s regular season finale for both teams, but that’s easier said than done.

“”He certainly makes a big difference in their defense. I think just having that kind of confidence in him frees everybody else up to go make plays and take chances,”” Dykes said. “”I think that’s what they do. They play very aggressive in nature and really take chances, and he’s the guy who seems to be able to make all the plays when they need him.””

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