Josh who? Anthony what’s-his-name?
The USC Trojans put on a clinic to open the college football season and Steve Sarkisian’s tenure, dismissing Fresno State 52-13 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. An improvement on the 45-20 result the Trojans scored on the Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl last December.
Behind a new offense, quarterback Cody Kessler left behind any doubt that he is the right man for the job. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns in only three quarters! He also contributed the first score of the game with his legs, jogging in from the one-yard line on the opening drive. Kessler has now thrown more than two touchdowns in a game twice, both against Fresno State.
Cody Kessler is 20/31 for 309 yards 3 TD and 0 INT. 5 rushes for 15 yards and 1 TD.
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) August 31, 2014
Those were Kessler’s numbers AT HALFTIME. Backup Max Browne entered the game on the last play of the third quarter with the Trojans ahead 52-13. The Trojans ran 103 total offensive plays, setting a school record and tying the Pac-12 record.
That was USC’s 103rd play of the game. That ties the Pac-12 record. — Daily Trojan Sports (@DT_Sports) August 31, 2014
Nelson Agholor played like the top target he was expected to be, making two difficult red zone touchdown catches in the first quarter. He finished the day with 57 yards on five catches. But the rest of Sarkisian’s touted receiving core was right behind him. Playing in their first collegiate game, true freshmen Juju Smith and Adoree’ Jackson each made their mark. Smith led the Trojans with 123 yards on four catches in the first half! That included a pair of blazing catch-and-runs for 43 and 53 yards. Jackson caught an 18-yard touchdown strike from Kessler in the second quarter, stifling the Bulldogs’ momentum after they finally put points on the board.
How talented is this group? Darreus Rogers’ five catches for 60 yards (four resulting in first downs) went largely unnoticed. George Farmer caught three passes, and converted tight end Bryce Dixon made his first catch (a touchdown, no less) with four minutes left in the third quarter. Nine Trojans in total caught a pass from Kessler.
All wasn’t entirely rosy in Sarkisian’s coaching debut. Tailbacks Buck Allen and Justin Davis lost fumbles on consecutive possessions in the second quarter. Though Allen redeemed himself by gaining 133 yards on 22 carries and scampering for a nine-yard score. Kicker Andre Heidari missed a field goal before halftime and sent the second half kickoff out of bounds while the Trojans racked up nine penalties for 77 yards.
As Kessler drove the offense down the field with relative ease–scoring touchdowns on each of the first three drives–Leonard Williams and the defense kept Fresno State at bay. Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter waited until kickoff to announce his starting quarterback, going with Brian Burrell, Derek Carr’s backup last season. Burrell lasted one quarter, amassing 14 passing yards on 3-of-6 passing while the team gained 43 total yards with him under center.
Brandon Connette, who transferred from Duke after leading the Blue Devils to 10 wins last season, entered the game in the second quarter and found slightly more success than Burrell. Connette led the Bulldogs on a touchdown-scoring drive in his first action, but threw interceptions to Gerald Bowman and Williams as the offense fizzled. The Trojans out-gained Fresno State 427-153 by halftime and the Bulldogs finished with 318 total yards.
Connette #15 and Burrell #2 have combined to go 14-34 with 154 yards and 3 INTs. Oh boy.
— Paul Meadors (@paulmeadors) August 31, 2014
They finished a combined 18-of-36 for 160 yards. A hot start was all USC needed to put a week of hellish PR in the rear view. Kessler and co. converted their first six third-downs and never had to punt. The defense racked up four interceptions and only allowed one play to go more than 20 yards all day.
Five different Trojans found the end zone, capped by Soma Vainuku’s 11-yard touchdown run with 2:47 left in the third quarter. It was a bigger blowout than we expected:
It got to the point where redshirt freshman James Toland, third on the depth chart, took over the ball-carrying duties in the fourth quarter and was able to gain 38 yards on 1 carries.
The Trojans face tough test at Stanford next week. They’ll have to replicate such a well-oiled effort to keep their national championship dreams intact.