In one of the most bizarre moves in recent NCAA Football coaching, head coach of the USC Trojans, Lane Kiffin, decided that his two sophomore quarterbacks would both get to play in the season opener Thursday evening against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. USC Trojan Daily reported the story on August 28 via Twitter:
Lane Kiffin: USC Trojans will play 2 QBs in opener
— USC Trojans Daily (@USCTrojansDaily) August 28, 2013
Kiffin began the game by starting sophomore QB out of Bakersfield, Calif., Cody Kessler. In his freshman season, Kessler was a perfect two for two on pass attempts playing a short time in USC’s blowout over the Colorado Buffaloes. Fellow sophomore Max Wittek would have to wait his turn to get into the action despite Kessler’s roller coaster performance.
Kessler’s first three drives were mostly uneventful with several runs mixed in with a few completions. Hawaii then executed a perfect punt which backed the Trojans’ defense to the one-yard line. Kessler dropped back and was quickly sacked for the safety. From there, Kessler seemed to continue sinking into oblivion with his poor play culminating in an interception thrown with just under seven minutes to play.
It seemed about time for Coach Kiffin to pull Kessler out, but the young QB was given another chance. Kessler’s next drive would end in a nice passing touchdown that somewhat negated his earlier poor play, but the overall experience was a fairly unimpressive first half. After getting a single drive in the second half, Kessler was gracefully removed from the game to allow Max Wittek to get his shot.
Wittek’s first drop back for a pass was almost immediately turned into a sack as the 6-foot-4 QB from Newport Beach looked to be on the same train of disappointment as his predecessor. Nevertheless, Wittek would turn things around for the Trojans and ended up leading the team on some very sound drives.
When Kessler left the game, the Trojans had a 20-5 lead thanks in part to his touchdown pass as well as a pick six from the defense which was outstanding against Hawaii. Wittek helped USC finish the game with a 30-13 victory. The two QBs’ stat lines are below:
Kessler: 10-of-19, 95 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Wittek: 5-of-10, 77 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Although Wittek’s numbers look slightly less impressive, there are three misleading ideas provided by these stats. First, Kessler had nine drives to Wittek’s six. As such, Wittek’s almost equal performance is more impressive than it seems. Second, the Trojans ran the ball 17 times in the first half and 28 in the second. Wittek led a beautiful drive which ended with USC punching the ball in on the ground; he should not be discredited for this at all since the running game was working. Finally, Wittek sent a perfect ball soaring to All-American receiver Marqise Lee late in the game that was dropped despite hitting Lee right in the numbers. This pass should have been caught and would have easily given Wittek another 40 yards to his stat line.
With all of that said, I truly believe Max Wittek deserves to get the start in USC’s next game. Wittek outplayed his counterpart, Kessler, and proved to be the sounder, more capable quarterback. I would love to hear your thoughts on the Trojans’ quarterback controversy, so please leave a comment below!