Third Week is the Charm for USC Trojans Offense

By Justine Hendricks

Cody Kessler‘s first play of the day for the USC Trojans was a pass intended for Marqise Lee that fell incomplete, but to disgruntled USC fans, it was a sign of hope that Lane Kiffin was finally ready to liven up the offense. Instead of booing, as they did during last weekend’s loss, they cheered.

As Kessler said after the game, it was just the beginning. The Trojans piled up 521 yards of total offense, averaging almost 8.5 yards per play, on their way to a 35-7 win over Boston College.

Teams don’t often have “must-win” games in week three, especially not against unranked nonconference opponents, but coming on the heels of a shocking home loss to Washington State, it felt like one. USC came out fighting when it counted. Kessler and Lee missed on the first pass, but they connected later in the half for the 80-yard touchdown fans have been waiting to see all season.

Kessler thrived in his first start as the official USC quarterback. In the first half, he hit 11 of his 12 pass attempts for 174 yards, more than his total from the first two games, and two touchdowns. He finished the game 15-of-17 for 237 yards — exactly 101 more passing yards than he and Max Wittek had in the first two games combined.

In his on-field interview with Pac-12 Network’s Drea Avent after the win, Kessler said the offensive line and tailbacks played a key role in the improved passing game this weekend.

Tailback Tre Madden, who had almost single-handedly carried the offense through the first two games, had his third consecutive game of 100 yards or more, with 102 against the Eagles. True freshman Justin Davis also showed the ability that drew rave reviews during fall camp, more than doubling his season yardage with 96 yards and a touchdown. Together they rushed for more yards than the entire Boston College offense.

USC’s play-calling still isn’t entirely balanced — 17 pass attempts compared to 43 rushes — but the result this weekend was pretty evenly balanced. Of the Trojans’ 521 total yards of offense, 257 were on the ground with 264 through the air. USC scored three rushing touchdowns and two passing.

“We got that rhythm finally,” Kessler said of the improved offense.

Of course, there are still things to work on. Penalties are a big concern, and as Kiffin noted at halftime, the game would have been much different, and USC’s lead much bigger, if the Trojans had played with better discipline.

Most importantly, though, USC came ready to play, looking energized for the first time since late 2012. Whether they were motivated by the embarrassment of the WSU loss, last week’s booing, the long-awaited stability at quarterback, or some other factor, the Trojans made it clear from the beginning of the game that they were there to prove they could win, and they did.

According to Kessler, fans should get used to it.

“That was only the beginning,” he told Avent after the game. “There’s much more to come.”

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