USC Football: Reports of demise exaggerated

The USC football team chose to do something rare at the start of the game. After winning the coin toss, they chose to receive instead of defer to the second half. While it was a slight breach of tradition, there was a reason.

On the first play of the game, Cody Kessler threw a deep ball to Marqise Lee. According to Lane Kiffin during the post-game press conference, “That was Max Nikias’s play. He told me to throw it deep, and they’ll cheer even if it’s incomplete.” And cheer they did. The breach of tradition started the Trojans out with some momentum that continued to the end.

The offense finally carried its own weight. They scored on their own power with scoring drives of 86, 80, 53, 94, and 75 yards. Of the eleven total drives by USC, five ended with touchdowns, while two were at the end of halves when USC just ran out the clock. Against Washington State, USC had only one touchdown on twelve drives. At Hawaii, the Trojans notched three touchdowns and three field goals in seventeen drives. It was a definite improvement.

In the passing game, Kessler completed passes to seven different targets: three wide receivers, two tight ends, a running back, and the fullback. He ended the day 15 for 17 for 237 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Critics are quick to point out that over 60 yards came from Lee taking what would have been only a first down pass in for a touchdown. However, both of Kessler’s incompletions came from deep passes to Lee. Both were very close to being completions, which would have made Kessler’s yardage much more impressive.

Despite that, Kessler is not going to be like Matt Barkley, throwing for 200 yards per half. He had a solid performance in his first real start and managed the game well. Some of his passes were completed in an unorthodox fashion, revealing just how different his style is from USC quarterbacks past. Fans would also be pleased to know the game was mostly devoid of the infamous “bubble screen.”

USC Football

Tre Madden (Photo credit: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports)

While the attention was on the passing game, the running game worked admirably. USC still favored the run with 43 run plays and 19 passes. There was only one loss on a run, not counting sacks and kneels: Tre Madden was hit for a loss of 1 yard during USC’s second drive. The improvement came from better blocking. Madden finished the day with 102 yards rushing on 16 carries, with an impressive 30-yard run on a trap play. He added 32 more yards and another touchdown on three receptions. Meanwhile, Justin Davis came closer to reaching the 100-yard mark. Those yards did not come quietly either, with two electrifying runs full of cuts and broken tackles.

As the offense started to find its identity, the defense continued its dominating performance. They only gave up one touchdown after the second team defense entered the game. Officially, the defense has only allowed an amazing 10 points per game. For the latter part of the decade, USC has been allowing more than 20 points per game. If this kind of performance continues or improves, the 2013 team has a chance to rival the 2008 team, allowing an average of 9 points per game.

Although the Trojans were much sharper, players, coaches, and fans alike must keep their perspective in check. Penalties became a problem again, with lots of yards lost from holding and illegal blocks. Coupled with the missed blocks, there may be a cause for concern, especially if Kiffin continues to call run plays on third down. All the opponents left on the schedule are likely to pose a bigger challenge than Boston College. This is a reminder that despite the inspiring win over the weekend, the Trojans have a long way to go.