- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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Like many of the draft-eligible players on this season’s 9-4 Trojans team, fourth-year junior Josh Shaw has a monumental decision on his hands as he mulls a potential jump to the NFL. And while the deadline to declare is now just under a month away, on Tuesday the 6-foot-1, 200-pound cornerback revealed that he isn’t even close to reaching a final verdict.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, something else has been occupying Shaw’s thoughts lately -- No. 25 USC’s upcoming clash with No. 20 Fresno State in Saturday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
“I really haven’t even sat down with the people in my circle too much yet to talk about what’s going on,” said Shaw, who said he will consult with his family, as well as newly hired USC head coach Steve Sarkisian. “I sent in my draft evaluation form, but I still haven’t gotten that back yet. I’ve just been focusing on this game.”
And with the way the Bulldogs have lit it up on offense, it’s no wonder that Shaw has been able to think of little else. Scoring an average of 45.3 points per game, Fresno State features one of the most feared passing attacks around, led by quarterback Derek Carr, who has completed 70.1 percent of his passes this fall for nation-best marks of 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns -- with just seven interceptions.
“I think he’s one of the best signal-callers in college football, and I have a lot of respect for him,” said Shaw, who has 61 tackles and three interceptions this season. “You can tell that he knows how to diagnose coverages, and his receivers do a great job for him.”
For a Trojans secondary that, as a unit, has struggled at times in pass coverage, Carr and his talented receiving corps figure to present a significant test. And as a seasoned leader who has proven to be one of the unit’s most reliable performers, both at safety and his current cornerback spot, he’s taken it upon himself to help rally the group for the tall task that lies ahead.
“I’ve definitely spoken to the guys,” said Shaw, a recipient of the defensive Perimeter Player of the Year Award at USC’s end-of-season banquet. “It’s no secret, we’ve seen it on film every day, they’re a great passing team. It’s going to be a great matchup.”
And no one looks to have a bigger individual challenge on their hands than Shaw, who will go head-to-head with Fresno State star wideout Davante Adams, the FBS leader in catches (122) and touchdown receptions (23). But as veteran who has already squared off against Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, Colorado’s Paul Richardson and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, and has done so effectively, Shaw is anything but intimidated heading into the duel.
“I love it,” Shaw said. “I can’t wait for Saturday to get here. Going against one of the top receivers in college football, in Adams, he’s got great numbers. I look forward to that challenge.”
With the potential key to the game lying in that battle between USC’s passing defense and Fresno State’s aerial attack, if Shaw and Co. are, in fact, able to put on a strong showing, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will be in good position to come away with a victory on Saturday.
And for a team that has already overcome so much in the form of coaching changes, as well as a depleted roster due to NCAA sanctions, it’s that 10th victory that would serve as the ultimate cherry on top of a season that Shaw and his teammates simply refused to allow to spiral out of control.
“Getting 10 wins is hard to do in college football,” Shaw said, “and if we can do that with all the adversity we’ve gone through, it would be just that much more special, and that much more memorable.”